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Bill O'Shea checks out of the Alfred

Briefs

Cite as: July 2015 89 (7) LIJ, p.14

Hospital legal counsel

Overcoming the suspicions of medical staff is the key challenge facing a hospital legal counsel, retiring Alfred Health general counsel Bill O’Shea said.

Mr O’Shea joined the Alfred in October 2003 while president of the LIV. He said that while there are now about 25 such hospital-based positions, there were only three or four 12 years ago.

“The doctors were very suspicious. Doctors find lawyers quite threatening and it is a job to get their confidence,” Mr O’Shea said. “You have to help them understand how an in-house lawyer can help them do their work and avoid things going wrong.”

Mr O’Shea trained as a teacher at the University of Melbourne in the late 1960s and studied law in the late 1980s while working as a speechwriter and ministerial adviser to then-premier John Cain. He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1988. He says his teaching experience helped with his hospital role, which included running seminars for medical staff.

So, too, his LIV role: “It broadens you,” he said. “You cover areas of the law that you never would have done in the ordinary work of practising the law.”

Mr O’Shea said the need to overcome staff suspicions was evident when the Alfred instigated a free patient legal clinic, with Maurice Blackburn supplying a lawyer two days a week and sending out follow-up work, often done pro bono. The clinic helps patients with issues such as domestic violence, homelessness, criminal convictions, “issues that can make them have a longer stay in hospital than they may otherwise have”.

“The major skill in this job is to get the confidence of, particularly the medical staff, but also allied health,” he said.

For example, they must understand the importance of keeping proper notes, which they often don’t. “You have to show them that that is in their interests. I think we have been fairly successful in that,” said Mr O’Shea, whose office now includes two other solicitors.

For Mr O’Shea, previously a commercial lawyer whose roles included managing partner, Hunt & Hunt, and senior associate with Minter Ellison, retirement from the Alfred does not mean retirement. He will continue as governor of the College of Law, chairing the company which runs the laboratory animals facility at the Alfred and board member of the Nucleus Network, the critical trials subsidiary of Baker IDI, trialling drugs in humans for the first time.

He will also continue perhaps his best known role to lawyers, as a radio presenter, monthly on 3RRR and Tuesdays at 8pm on the ABC.

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