Native San Antonians, sisters and co-owners of Texas Medical Legal Consultants, Liz LaBarge and Kathryn Goertz, bring their legal and medical backgrounds to their team to benefit their clients. After graduating from the journalism program at University of Texas Austin, Goertz transitioned into medical office administration. LaBarge attended law school at Washington University St. Louis. She practiced business litigation in St. Louis before moving back to San Antonio in 2010.
Their company provides administrative assistance to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers that offer consulting and testimonial services to attorneys. Texas Medical Legal Consultants also works in conjunction with attorneys to ensure they find the appropriate expert for their needs.
AALM: Tell us about the founding of Texas Medical Legal Consultants.
Goertz: Liz and I technically founded the company in 2010, but the idea was rooted in a need that we identified many years prior. In 2004, I was hired by our physician father to bring organization to the legal consulting niche of his practice. Historically, his staff was focused on running his clinic and there was very little attention paid to his medical legal obligations, tracking deadlines, or managing billing. Over time I became versed in the specialized process of medical expert reviews so that I could effectively facilitate his legal services. Attorneys appreciated the improved access to their expert witness, and the benefits of working with a proficient liaison who was familiar with the types of cases our father could accept. The enhanced efficiency permitted our father to remain fully committed to his clinical practice while serving as an expert consultant, and some of his colleagues requested that I similarly coordinate their medical legal reviews. After Liz moved back to Texas, we decided to explore whether the model was scalable and could offer benefits to both the medical and legal communities.
AALM: Are there many similar companies?
LaBarge: As an attorney, I was aware of some national companies that offered an introduction to potential experts to law firms along with their direct contact information but not ongoing administrative services throughout the case retention. It was important for us to work with a smaller network of medical providers so that we could form personal relationships and tailor our services to them accordingly.
Now, 10 years later, other companies have emerged with similar business models, but what sets us apart is our commitment to remaining purely administrative. Our team does not review medical records, generate summaries or chronologies, or in any way influence the substantive opinion of our expert clients. We have also made a huge investment in hiring top notch case managers, a lot of whom were senior level paralegals with extensive legal backgrounds to ensure that all time constraints are valued and met by the experts. The cost is high but the employee caliber is beyond compare.
AALM: How has the company evolved over time?
Goertz: For the first six years, it was just the two of us. We split up facilitating case reviews based on expert practice area and jointly handled all client meetings, invoicing, processing payments, and any third-party vendor needs. In 2016 we hired our first full-time case manager and now have a team of 12. Our services have not evolved as much as our internal structure and delineation of roles within the organization to accommodate the growth. The biggest contributing factor to our growth has been realizing the value of delegation.
AALM: Liz, what have been the pros and cons for you in transitioning from a traditional law practice into the business sector?
LaBarge: The primary challenge for me has been the constant need to evolve and develop new skill sets depending upon the relevant needs of the business. I have always preferred knowing a lot about a little in comparison to knowing a little about a lot, so the transition has forced me to function outside of my comfort zone. The other challenge for me has been redirecting my attention from completing specific tasks on my to-do list to cultivating personal relationships with our employees. It comes very natural to Kathryn, but I have to be intentional about checking in on each employee’s satisfaction level.
Aside from the pro of not having to keep track of my billable time, the most valued aspect of being a business owner would definitely be control. It is an amazing gift (and challenge) to have the authority to assemble a team, oversee and improve operations, and implement solutions to problems facing our clients.
AALM: How do you like working with attorneys and physicians?
Goertz: I feel incredibly fortunate to work with some of the state’s brightest and most accomplished professionals in both fields. Most physicians and attorneys have a mutual respect for one another. Keeping up with their crazy work hours is probably the biggest challenge, but it comes with the territory.
AALM: How would you characterize your utility to attorneys?
LaBarge: We have a direct line of communication to our expert clients. This is especially beneficial to attorneys if they have a time sensitive need on a new or active case. Also, our company can be an incredible resource for attorneys if they have a need for an expert in an unfamiliar location or practice area. We also have a pulse on which experts will travel if necessary and how much they charge for those services.
An additional utility of our company arises when an attorney is handling a matter involving a relatively uncommon medical issue for their line of practice. Options can be limited for attorneys in less saturated expert areas, but it can be incredibly helpful to know what options exist.
Aside from obtaining assistance in ensuring that the file lands on the appropriate expert’s desk, we regularly receive feedback from attorneys that they greatly appreciate the ability to work with a liaison and team that prioritizes this type of work for the healthcare provider and possesses knowledge about the industry. Attorneys also find value in our ability to coordinate the expert’s receipt of medical records in a secure and efficient manner so that deadlines can be met.
AALM: What advice would you give attorneys in order to improve their relationships with experts and maximize the effectiveness of their services?
Goertz: From a practical standpoint, I would advise attorneys to line up their experts as early as possible. Even if all the records are not available for the expert’s review, the busier experts would still rather clear conflicts and have notice of the anticipated future commitments. The summer and the holidays are the two times of year where I see physicians declining new case reviews the most, so attorneys should prioritize lining up experts especially early if there are deadlines that fall during those time frames.
Another point of contention can be delay of notice for testimonial requests. From my experience managing a physician’s practice, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to reschedule appointments for the office. This is a common point of frustration for the experts so providing significant notice is always greatly appreciated.
AALM: What is it like working with family?
Goertz: Family has always been intertwined with work for me. Initially I worked for my father, now I work with my sister, and my husband joined us last year. It makes family vacations a huge challenge and forces you to draw boundaries between your professional and personal lives. However, I would not change the experiences for anything in the world and feel blessed that Liz and I get to drive this ship together.