Medical Practice Management
Mar 02

Dear Doctor – How To Hire And Fire Your Attorney and Accountant

Here's the straight scoop on hiring an advisor, along with honest coaching on how to terminate an attorney or CPA relationship. There's no magic approach except to address both concerns promptly and sensitively. 

We often hear complaints from doctors about the services then receive from their attorneys and accountants. They complain about late response, escalating fees and rising IRS penalties due to faulty work. Some physicians say their advisors, although fine for routine tasks, are unable to provide the essential guidance to avoid or solve major problems. 

What's the sense in having attorneys and accountants like that?  The answer is obvious, and yet poorly selected and unwisely retained professional advisors continue in place year after year.  Since these people deal with issues critically important to you and your practice, you simply can't afford less than top notch performance. 

Selecting Advisors 

There's a plethora of articles with titles like `How to Select Your Attorney (or Accountant)." They make the process appear deceptively simple. Just ask around for good firms, interview some potential choices, ask about availability and fees and pick the winner. 

Up to a point, these articles are correct. The problem is in making that process actually lead to your best selection.  

Good advisors come from a variety of sources. There's no absolute pattern of preference. Attorneys and accountants from medium sized offices quite often work out best. Their firms are big enough for a fairly senior partner to serve you personally.   Still, some of the finest advisors we've seen are sole practitioners and large firm partners. 

It really depends on the `chemistry" between advisor and client.  If the accountant or attorney has experience with comparable medical practices in your area and if he or she relates comfortably with you, then that person will probably advise your practice effectively.  This ability to empathize with you is an ability which cannot be measured will make the difference between several otherwise equally capable professionals. 

How do you decide who has this intangible quality in relation to your own personality? After talking to the candidate and his clients, ifs a matter of gut instinct and personal re-action. This may be a problem in group practices when several equally important partners have different gut reactions, but the only honest advice is to "work it out." 

Selection Is Not Forever 

The choice would not be so traumatic if physicians were psychologically more willing to fire ineffective advisors. After all, your attorney or accountant is neither your spouse nor your partner. A decision to change one or both of the advisors is not akin to divorce. And while you may fear tremendous disruptions when a change occurs, the transition usually comes off uneventfully. 

No harm is likely to befall you even if you replace your accountant in the middle of a year or before your final tax return is prepared. Nor if you fire your attorney while he or she is handling a case for you.  

Since there is no ideal time to make the change and no disastrous time to do so your best bet is to face the decision whenever it presents itself to you. But don't keep delaying it once you conclude that you aren’t being served well. 

It's possible that your advisor's inability to suit you is your own fault. Physicians and their managers often fail to keep their lawyers informed and involved enough to help them do their job. Many clients don't ask their CPAs the right questions even in face-to face meetings.  Even if this is the case, you are still probably better off making a change. Your failure to communicate is probably due to faulty "chemistry" between you. It will hopefully be better when a different, sensitively chosen advisor comes on board. 

How To Do It 

Don't stall in making the change because you don't know how to go about it. The best advice: "Just do it." When you decide that you `11 change "sooner or later," sooner is better. 

A brief phone call telling him or her of your decision will generally suffice. Sometimes it's accomplished by a brief letter, although common courtesy calls for a personal contact by phone beforehand. 

Perhaps you have already chosen the advisor's successor before giving notice. Or perhaps you plan to start the selection process right after firing your present advisor. Either approach is fine so long as you make the change in deliberate fashion. Your present lawyer and CPA are generally obliged to continue serving your, needs until a successor takes over.

About Reed Tinsley, CPA

As a top advisor to physicians, I help increase practice profits by delivering hands-on, expert medical accounting/tax support, practice counsel, and revenue-building strategies. Read more →