How to become a legal nurse consultant
These days, it’s cool to be a hyphenate—you know, like actor-activist, graphic designer-herbalist, or dentist-beekeeper. Basically, people who have strong professional skill sets in multiple areas are highly sought after, as industries look for employees who are versatile. And when you throw in healthcare, possibly the hottest industry around, you’re getting into very marketable territory. If you’ve ever found yourself trying to combine nursing skills with a bit of legal eagle expertise, then we might have a new career path for you: legal nurse consultant.
What does a legal nurse consultant do?
Legal nurse consultants (LNCs) are specialized nurses who provide medical expertise to people or groups who handle legal issues, like lawyers, court officers, lawmakers, insurance companies, or government agencies. For example, in a lawsuit or court case where the defendant claims he was injured, a legal nurse consultant might be brought in to assess the defendant’s medical records or testify about a particular kind of injury in general. Or if an insurance company is investigating the validity of a person’s claim, the legal nurse consultant might be called in to share expertise. Basically, a legal nurse consultant can be the bridge between the legal and healthcare worlds.
A legal nurse consultant’s responsibilities may include:
- Reading and interpreting medical records/histories
- Working with attorneys to draft legal documents with medically sound information
- Providing background medical research
- Interviewing clients
- Offering advice and medical insight to legal professionals about particular health issues or nursing practices in general
- Consulting on healthcare legislation
- Writing reports
- Testifying in court as a witness
Legal nurse consultants are often hired directly by law firms, government agencies, insurance companies, nonprofits, healthcare facilities, or forensic laboratories. There are also legal nurse consulting firms that employ LNCs and have them work with clients on a consultant basis. LNCs may also go into business for themselves, setting up direct client relationships. They may work part-time (balancing legal duties with other nursing jobs) or full-time, depending on the employer. About half of LNCs are directly employed by private institutions, while the other half are independent contractors.
What skills do LNCs need?
Legal nurse consultants need to have two very strong skill sets: medical/clinical and legal. After all, their work depends on having expertise in both areas. While nurses do need strong hands-on patient care skills in general, the skills needed for this specialty tend to be more administrative in nature.
- Critical thinking skills. Legal nurse consultants are responsible for analyzing medical data or situations, and applying it to a very particular legal context. So the LNC should be good at making connections, seeing patterns, and recalling details in order to solve a problem or create a narrative.
- Organizational skills. In both healthcare and the legal world, there’s little room for sloppiness—mistakes can endanger someone’s health or livelihood and affect the outcome of binding legal judgments. So an LNC needs to be able to organize information accurately and efficiently, particularly when it comes to written documents or medical records.
- Clinical skills. Much of the job is providing current, accurate medical expertise, so it’s important for the LNC to have a strong medical background. If the nurse already has a specialty (like elder care or pediatrics), it’s also essential to stay on top of developments and trends in those fields, even if he or she isn’t actively practicing as a nurse anymore.
- Knowledge of legal terminology. A legal nurse consultant isn’t an attorney, but he or she needs to have as good a grasp on legal terminology, as well as medical terminology, in order to work most efficiently with legal professionals and provide high-quality consulting.
- Communication skills. Being a legal nurse consultant is often a public-facing role (like when testifying in court), so being able to communicate effectively is essential. A legal nurse consultant’s reputation is based on the reliability of their information; so he or she should be able to present information clearly and authoritatively, with clean speaking and writing.
What do you need to become an LNC?
The main starting point to become a legal nurse consultant is a nursing degree and certification. You need that clinical base before you can specialize. At a minimum, legal nurse consultants have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, plus certification as an RN (which means passing the NCLEX and getting licensed by the state). States can have different requirements, so be sure to research what your particular state requires to become a registered nurse.
This is also not an entry-level specialty for nurses. Most legal nurse consultants have at least five years’ experience in nursing practice before becoming a consultant. After all, you have to build expertise before you can share it with others and be an authority.
If you choose to specialize in this area, many nursing programs offer training classes to develop the necessary legal skills. And although certification isn’t necessarily a requirement for working as a legal nurse consultant, many employers prefer to work with nurses who hold a certification from the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCC).
How much do LNCs make?
This can be a very lucrative career path for nurses. Most legal nurse consultants work on an hourly basis, with LNCs employed by law firms or private companies typically billing $60-100 per hour, and independent consultants typically billing $65-200 per hour. LNCs may also be able to charge premium fees for providing expert testimony, with average fees ranging from $150-200 per hour for these highly specialized services.
What’s the outlook for LNCs?
Very bright indeed. Healthcare and nursing jobs are growing exponentially as it is, and legal changes to the healthcare and insurance industries are providing even more openings for nurses with this extra layer of legal expertise.
If you’re looking for a nursing specialty that lets you reach outside the medical field and maybe even add a little legal drama, then becoming a legal nurse consultant could be a lucrative, challenging, and productive choice for your next career steps. Good luck!