Legal nurse consultants (LNCs) are registered nurses who work with attorneys and others in the legal field to act as expert medical witnesses in medical cases, such as medical malpractice, personal injury, or workers’ compensation.
In some instances, LNCs may be a source of knowledge for legal representatives in cases involving the cause of death or the manner in which a criminal act was committed. They also serve as consultants for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, reviewing the records of patients who need medication or are making medical claims.
Legal nurse consultants must be familiar with medical chronology and case analysis. They may provide support to litigation teams that examine medical cases and look into case files to review medical records, employment, disability records, X-rays, and other information that can help the team reach a conclusion.
“Our main role is educating attorneys, and we can be a huge aid to them. We’re like their ace in the pocket,” says Martha Holley-Jones, BSN, RN, in an article about legal nurse consulting careers on Monster.com. She is one of three LNCs at MLCC Medical-Legal Nurse Consultant Company in Pennsylvania.
To stand out in an already crowded field, many nursing professionals consider earning a certificate beyond an MSN degree. Students in Duquesne University’s online Post-Master’s Certificate in Forensic Nursing program can learn how to understand the legal system and develop programs to advance this emerging specialty.
Why LNCs Are Important
While lawyers are well versed in their field, they may not comprehend all of the intricacies involved in medical procedures and practices. Medical errors account for at least 250,000 deaths each year, according to the May 2016 online article, “Medical Errors Are Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.,” in U.S. News and World Report.
“People don’t just die from heart attacks and bacteria, they die from system-wide failings and poorly coordinated care,” Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says in the article. “It’s medical care gone awry.”
Such cases can be difficult and detailed, so the more medical understanding attorneys have, the better. Legal nurse consultants fill a niche that no one else can, bridging the gap between the legal and medical worlds. They help to interpret complex medical information, and they are familiar with tricky details.
LNCs review medical records to determine which information is relevant and whether anything is missing. Armed with this knowledge, these specialized nurses can advise attorneys to either pursue a lawsuit or drop a case due to insufficient medical evidence.
If a case goes to trial, legal nurse consultants, as medical professionals with various areas of expertise, can legally act as expert witnesses on the stand. Lawyers often depend on their testimony to showcase evidence, educate a jury on complicated medical concepts, determine if standards of care were met, and more.
LNCs may be involved in a variety of different activities, which, according to the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants, include:
- Taking part in client interviews
- Analyzing medical records
- Conducting research
- Defining standards of care in medical malpractice cases
- Evaluating strengths and weaknesses of cases
- Writing or interpreting medical language in legal documents
- Educating lawyers and clients about medical affairs
- Determining plaintiffs’ future medical needs and costs for care
- Participating in medical exams
- Testifying as expert witnesses
- Qualifying estimates for costs associated with long-term care
- Locating evidence and getting it ready for trial
- Helping attorneys prepare for depositions and trials
In addition to the practical knowledge and skills required, successful legal nurse consultants should also possess certain personality traits — many of which are traits any good nurse would need.
For example, LNCs should have compassion, organization skills, a great work ethic, psychological and emotional stability, excellent communication skills, adaptability, problem-solving skills, and attention to detail.
Plus, on the legal side, they should be decisive, savvy at research, able to work autonomously, comfortable with or without structure, and feel at ease speaking and interacting with legal and judicial professionals and groups.
Legal nurse consultants can practice in many different areas, such as medical malpractice, personal injury, workers’ compensation, long-term care litigation/elder law, risk management, forensic/criminal law, civil rights, and employment discrimination.
LNCs may work for law firms, insurance companies, healthcare facilities, government agencies, forensic organizations, consulting firms, HMOs, patient safety organizations, business and industry legal departments, or be self-employed with their own independent practices.
The median annual salary for legal nurse consultants is more than $74,000, with geography being a large factor, according to PayScale.com. Growth in the field may reach 21 percent, which is slightly higher than the 19 percent average growth rate for registered nurses, according to NurseJournal.org.
Duquesne University’s Online Post-Master’s Certificate in Forensic Nursing
The online certificate in forensic nursing at Duquesne University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Courses in the program include forensic science and the legal system, criminal law and the courts, and physical assessment for advanced practice nursing, among others. For more information on this and other online nursing programs, visit the Duquesne University website.