Physician contracts can be very complex, and often physicians turn to attorneys for help reviewing them during the negotiation process. Poonam Lakhani, an employment and business attorney with The Prinz Law Firm, works with physicians to do just that. She reviews contracts to understand compensation structures, non-compete clauses, termination clauses, whether there are specific steps that can lead a physician to become a partner, and more.
“My goal is to make sure that as much is defined as possible, because when there’s vagueness in an agreement, that’s where disputes occur.”
Poonam is based in the Chicago area and is a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Chicago. She has been named a Super Lawyers Rising Star every year since 2016.
ABOUT THE GUEST:
Poonam Lakhani is an employment and business attorney with The Prinz Law Firm. She focuses her practice primarily on employment discrimination, retaliation, wage and hour claims, and retaliatory discharge claims and has practiced before federal and state courts, the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
Poonam also has experience representing physicians and negotiating physician employment agreements. She represents many small to mid-sized business clients with various commercial matters, including incorporation, shareholder agreements, partnership agreements, contract negotiations, and other transactional matters.
Prior to joining The Prinz Law Firm, Poonam interned in the litigation division of the EEOC, for the labor relations department of the Chicago Board of Education, and in-house at Verizon Wireless. She is a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Chicago, for which she previously served as community chair. She has been named a Super Lawyers Rising Star every year since 2016.
Website and contact information:
- During early conversations, Poonam focuses on identifying physicians’ goals: For instance, is the potential position a stepping stone, or do they want to stay there for years? If they’re planning to move on relatively quickly, Poonam focuses on the termination clause and non-compete clause.
- The most common timeline Poonam sees in termination clauses is 90 days for both the employer and the physician.
- Rather than focusing on the salary itself, Poonam focuses on compensation structure. If much of their compensation is paid out in RVUs and bonuses, physicians need to understand how their compensation will be determined and what will happen if they decide to leave. Before they sign, Poonam encourages her clients to ask for specific information, such as the average RVUs for physicians within the practice.
- Once contracts are handed off to attorneys, what the physician wants can get lost. Poonam encourages her clients to do most of their negotiating themselves, utilizing her as a coach.
- Non-compete clauses lead to a lot of litigation, Poonam says. These rules typically restrict physicians from practicing within a certain region for a certain amount of time after they leave a job. (In California, non-competes are illegal.)
- Another area that physicians often overlook is tail insurance. Ideally, the employer will pay for tail insurance, because it can be very expensive.
- Employment issues are increasingly going to arbitration rather than to court. Arbitration is typically friendlier to employers than employees, and in some cases it can be litigated in a different state. Poonam looks closely at these clauses to make sure they’re reasonable for her clients.
- Poonam encourages her clients to get as many details as possible spelled out in employment contracts. If they have any questions about how contract details will affect their lives, she says, they can and should ask them during the negotiation process.
- Some contracts outline specific steps that lead to partnerships, while others are extremely vague. If contracts are vague, Poonam suggests that her clients not count on that possibility. If the group can provide specific metrics and goals that will lead to physicians becoming partners, she encourages them to get those in writing.
- Physicians should try to talk to people who are already on staff, if possible, to get a better sense of issues like work-life balance and how common it is for physicians to become partners.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
“You can always ask for more, and the worst that’s going to happen is no. My concern is more — how is it being paid out? What are the components? And what are the terms and conditions connected to those?”
“My goal is to make sure that as much is defined as possible, because when there’s vagueness in an agreement, that’s where disputes occur. I want to make sure everything is as clear and spelled out as possible.”
“I’ve almost never seen an offer rescinded because somebody was negotiating a contract. I tell my clients, ‘don’t be afraid, and if they’re going to go that route, maybe that’s somebody you don’t want to work for.’”
“If [an ask] gets declined, there are ways that we can reword things or modify or adjust clauses so that the concerns of the employer and the employee are addressed. I think it’s a good idea to have counsel review the agreements.”
“Go where you feel comfortable. Go where you feel like you’re a good fit and go with your gut… it’s important to really look at all aspects and not just the dollars.”
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If you liked this episode, here’s another I think you’ll enjoy: Episode 22: Launching New Medical Practices with Debra Phairis