Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that “anesthesiologists pay less for malpractice insurance today, in constant dollars, than they did 20 years ago.” This is a result of a conscious effort – one with lessons for lawyers. 

In the lead story, Once Seen as Risky, One Group Of Doctors Changes Its Ways ($), the Journal reports on many measures anesthesiologists have taken to reduce problems. Patient deaths have been cut by a factor of 40 (forty)!

Twenty years ago, when hit with rising malpractice claims, anesthesiologists did not try changing tort law; rather, they examined their own medical procedures in detail. “Anesthesiologists left their practices for days at a time to pore over [thousands of] closed insurance claims.” Data was coded and fed into computers for analysis. What they learned led to significant changes in medical practice.

Lawyers are totally accustomed to examining the past to see what happened. Litigators look at cases, transaction lawyers at past deals. They are not accustomed, however, to examining how they did their work. If lawyers examined how they practiced, they would undoubtedly discover many ways to improve.

In health care, the third party payment system has driven other, similar efforts to improve practice. In the large law firm market, third party payment is not a significant factor and malpractice rates, while up a lot, are still manageable. Until general counsels exercise their market power, lawyers will have not motivation to introspect, analyze, and improve law practice.