The Three Biggest Mistakes Orthodontists Make With Negotiating Employment Contracts

August 25, 2020

In our podcast, The Survival Guide for Orthodontists, we speak with a wide variety of experts in the orthodontics field, frequently addressing extremely topical subjects affecting the industry right now.

In our latest episode, we spoke with Stephen Kaufman, head of the Wright, Constable & Skeen LLP healthcare law group. Steve has been a lawyer for over 35 years advising orthodontists about various legal topics including employment/partnership contracts, disciplinary proceedings, buying, selling or starting a practice, and insurance and government investigations and litigation. He is also the host of his very own podcast, Dental Call, an entertaining and informative interview podcast with thought leaders in the business of dentistry.

During the episode we spoke about plenty of legal topics affecting orthodontics. You should give it a listen by clicking here.

Orthodontics is not only being disrupted by new technology. A subject we talk about a lot on our podcast and our blog. There are also major changes in the business dynamics of orthodontics. Recent graduates used to join established private practice as an associate right out of school. For decades that was the model. But things have changed. Now, graduates are evaluating employment contracts with large DSOs and smaller practices are being gobbled up by those same large corporate entities. With all these changes come all these legal questions and challenges.

In the podcast, we discussed how orthodontists should negotiate employment contracts. Below we outline  the three biggest mistakes that orthodontists make, according to Steve:

1. Orthodontists believe a contract is standard and they don’t negotiate it.

“I have done this 5,000 times and I want everybody to understand that it’s a myth,” said Steve.

There is, he stressed, no such thing as a standard contract.

“Not negotiating can really hurt you,” he added.

There are many reasons to negotiate. One is to get more for yourself out of the agreement. More money, benefits, etc. You negotiate to get yourself more stuff.

But, Steve said that the most important reason to negotiate is because during the process you are going to learn something about your new employer. When you ask for something, the character of your employer gets revealed and that separates good guys from bad guys. 

“I don’t know a single orthodontist who thinks they’re standard,” said Steve. “So I don’t know why anyone would sign the supposedly standard contract.

2. They don’t get promises in writing.

Steve said that when it comes down to it, a contract almost never matches the deal the employee was offered. They usually end up more favorable to the employer. The mistake orthodontists make is trusting too much in things that were said but not put down in writing.

“I trust you completely otherwise we wouldn’t be talking,” Steve explained of the negotiating process. “This piece of paper, this contract, it sets out a deal. If things change in the future. Everything you agree to is in the contract.”

All other discussions, emails, or phone calls are gone if they are not in the contract. Even if you trust the person you are negotiating with, that person may leave. Or the memeory of what was discussed might fail you.

“An oral agreement isn’t worth the paper it's’ written on,” Steve joked. “If it’s important to you make sure it’s in the contract.”

3. Going it alone.

“Get some help,” Steve said. “Don’t do it on your own.”

Orthodontists try to negotiate and understand contracts on their own and that is a mistake..

“Orthodontists are smart,” Steve said. “But they are experts in dentistry not law and contracts.”

Words don’t often mean what you think they do. They look like they mean one thing but they mean something completely different in a contract.

He also said that when you look at a contract, you don’t know what you don’t know.

“You don’t know what should or shouldn’t be in there,” he said.

One common aspect left out of contracts is moving expenses. You can often get a potential employer to pay for them if you ask but you might not know to ask for it.

“Whenever you negotiate for yourself you are biased and it’s hard to be objective,” Steve said. “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

A lot of people are afraid to lose the job if they seem too pushy or greedy during the motiating process. But Steve said negotiating is an important part of the process so don’t leave it out and don’t make the mistakes he often sees above. 

“The worst that happens is that they say no,” he said but even then it might not be final. “Sometimes the employer is just seeing if they can get away with no.”

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