Powered by i.TV
October 9, 2015

Things I Hate About TV: Practicing medicine or law out of state

by Joel Keller, posted Feb 21st 2006 3:45PM
Matlock - practicing out of stateIt's amazing that even in this day an age where information is easily searchable, TV writers still think we're morons that will accept whatever's on the screen as what can happen in real life. Take, for example, the tried-and-true TV convention of lawyers and doctors visiting another state to ply their trade. A friend of a cousin of a golfing buddy is up on murder charges in Chicago? No problem; Ben Matlock will fly out from Atlanta to defend him. Your husband's boss' dogwalker's cousin from Seattle has bony tumors in his head that make him look like a lion? Simple; recruit the plastic surgeon from New York who just happens to be there that day to perform the procedure to make him look normal.

Does the last scenario sound ridiculous? It sure does, but it was also a major plot point on the last episode of Grey's Anatomy. "McSteamy" was all ready to perfrom the facial surgery on Sheppard's patient, but the kid died before that part of the operation could start.

Do TV writers not realize that states have hard and fast rules about people who come from out of state to practice law or medicine? At the least, they need a special waiver that allows them to do so temporarily, and that paperwork takes time to process. At the most, practicing law or medicine in a jurisdiction where you're not certified (heck, for doctors, you can't even practice medicine outside your affiliated hospitals) leaves the doctor, lawyer, hospital, and state open to malpractice suits.

ER was the only show to get this right; in scenes where Mark Greene had to take, say, his parents to an emergency room out of state, he begged off and let the doctors there do their work; he knew that if he as much touched the patient he and hospital would be in trouble.

Can anyone think of other cases where TV depicted a lawyer or doctor practicing out of state without a problem? Let me know in the comments.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Joel, I think he was referring to my rebuttle to you as being unreasearched. Which it was. I was just trying to throw what little I knew into the hopper and see what came out.

And I am still curious about where the line is, for doctors, between legal and meaningful restrictions practice and upholding the hippocratic oath and what being licensed *somewhere* has to do with any of it.

February 22 2006 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joel Keller

Erik, didn't I state almost exactly what Lazarus wrote without the legal terms? I did say that a lawyer could practice out of state with a waiver. What is the Pro Hac Vice motion? Sounds like a waiver to me.

And I know for a fact that a doctor can't practice in a state where he or she is not board-certified because this is what my doctor friends have told me numerous times.

Can you tell me where my factual errors are, Erik?

February 22 2006 at 7:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brent McKee

#6: Canadian courts don't use wigs anymore for either lawyers or judges - robes yes, wigs no - and in fact I don't know when Canadian lawyers gave up wigs. The robes are eminently practical in that it serves as a sort of uniform for trial council.

February 22 2006 at 1:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Things I hate about blogs:
People not doing their research before posting something.

Thanks Lazarus, I wouldn't have gone into as much detail into Pro Hac.

February 22 2006 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@ 8: Actually, Lazarus, that's a terriffic amount! I'll be the first to admit I only did a cursory googling, and I'm glad that someone with actual, you know, knowledge stepped up.
I do wonder, more specifically to the Grey's Anatomy case, how licensure, reciprocity and so forth square with the hypocratic oath and a doctor's obligation to treat the patient in front of them, as it were. Obviously with Grey's, the fact that it wasn't a life threatening ailment that the plastic surgeon was going after is a factor, but the larger question remains.

February 21 2006 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lee Goldberg


It's called fiction because the characters and events and the world they're in are FICTIONAL. DNA isn't processed from a crime scene within an hour. Murder cases aren't tried in a day. Crime scene techs don't carry guns. People can't be beamed from one place to another. But those facts haven't stopped CSI, LAW AND ORDER, LAW AND ORDER SVU, PERRY MASON, CSI MIAMI, and STAR TREK from being huge hits. If the show works, and you're drawn into the story and the characters, reality isn't important. Nobody cares if Matlock can't practice in Atlanta or if it's ridiculous for CSI techs to carry guns and drive chrome-plated hummers. Its TV.

February 21 2006 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

#5) Actually, in terms of lawyers the reciprocity agreements tend to relate to the licensing exams (the bar) not the ability to practice in a particular state. In order for a lawyer from another state to practice with out passing & being admitted to the bar of that state, they must file a Pro Hac Vice motion that gives them special dispensation from the Court to practice in that state solely in regards to and for the purpose of that particular case. Even once admitted lawyers are required to work with a local counsel who must co-sign all legal documents. Lawyers allowed to practice under these circumstances are required to pay all dues and fees as if they were members of that local bar association. These arrangements are done in part to guarantee the client a lawyer familiar with a particular states idiosyncratic laws and in part to protect the local lawyers in each jurisdictions-- in order for any case to be tried in a particular region, a local lawyer must be on the case.

Now, it is possible for a lawyer to be admitted in multiple jurisdictions, but they are required to pass the state bar (or pass a state bar with reciprocity) in EACH state and pay yearly dues to the Bar association of those states. On top of that, every court (state, district, circuit, supreme) have their own, complicated, admissions process requiring fees, character validiations, etc.. Needless to say, you can't simply walk into a state court and start arguing a case (let alone the Supreme Court).

And that was probably more info than y'all wanted.

February 21 2006 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Samuel McConnell

I have only one thing to add to this. Me. Denny Crane. Denny Crane. Denny Crane.

February 21 2006 at 5:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

IIRC, in the Candian episode of BL, they only appeared as "freinds of the court" to lend their big names to the case. The wearing of wigs and robes was done out of respect for the Candian courts.

February 21 2006 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lots of states, I believe, have what are called reciprocity agreements for all sorts of things that require a license, practice of medicine or law, shipping of liquor, possession of a firearms--at least according to my googling (and my attempts to get booze shipped to Texas).

What the agreements mean is that if you're licenced to do one of these things in a state, you're allowed to also do them in any state that's got a reciprocal agreement with that state. Now, obviously not every state's got one with every other state, and it's not been federalized like driver's licences and marriage licenses so it's not across the board, but it does provide at least the whiff of probability to these scenarios.

Probably not the Canadian one, though. That's just crazy.

February 21 2006 at 4:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners