Legal nurse consultants (LNCs) are registered nurses who work with attorneys and other professionals 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. Ultimately, an LNC can offer crucial assistance to an attorney, as their expertise can provide the level of depth and authority that further solidifies a legal case.
To stand out in an already crowded field, nursing professionals may consider earning a post-master’s certificate in forensic nursing to learn more about what a legal nurse consultant is as well as how to understand the legal system and develop programs to advance this emerging specialty.
What Does a Legal Nurse Consultant Do?
There are many different activities that encompass what a legal nurse consultant does. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants lists the following as core tasks:
- 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
How to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant
Individuals interested in how to become a legal nurse consultant should know that these healthcare specialists need to have a level of expertise in the nursing field that will carry weight in the legal field. Because of this, there are several key steps that prospective candidates should follow.
Education and Licensure
Legal nurse consultants must earn either an associate (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing. They should also pass the NCLEX examination and become a certified registered nurse (RN) to establish the foundational knowledge and skills needed to excel in the profession.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides the specific requirements that nurses must meet, which vary from state to state. It is advisable for individuals to familiarize themselves with their state’s licensing requirements prior to enrolling in a nursing program.
Many also take the extra step of earning an advanced degree such as a master’s degree in nursing to deepen their nursing knowledge and skills — something that may lead to better opportunities in the field.
Gaining several years of experience as an RN is essential to pursuing a career as a legal nurse consultant. Doing so allows individuals to apply the knowledge and skills they learned in an academic setting into a care delivery setting. This experience also allows individuals to further develop their nursing skills, including skills that directly relate to what a legal nurse consultant does, which can help them gain a greater level of expertise for the role.
Earn a Post-Master’s Certificate
Earning a post-master’s certificate in forensic nursing can further demonstrate a nurse’s commitment to maintaining the highest standards of professionalism and practice. This could help individuals stand out to prospective employers.
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. These include:
- Organizational skills
- Good work ethic
- Psychological and emotional stability
- Excellent communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Attention to detail
LNCs should also have a strong set of legal skills. 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 Nursing Consulting
While lawyers are well-versed in their field, they may not comprehend all of the intricacies involved in medical procedures and practices. This is particularly the case when it comes to the correlation between medical errors and death.
This correlation is one that spurs debate: While a 2016 report from Johns Hopkins University claimed medical errors were responsible for some 250,000 deaths each year — a statistic that would make it the third leading cause of death in the U.S. — other reports and health publications like Verywell Health have since pointed out flaws in the number’s calculation, suggesting the actual number of deaths was significantly lower.
The debate over how many people actually pass away due to medical error elucidates the difficulty that can surround such cases. It also demonstrates why it’s so important for attorneys to have as much medical understanding on their side as possible. 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. Legal nursing consulting helps lawyers accurately showcase evidence, educate a jury on complicated medical concepts, determine if standards of care were met and more.
Salary and Career Outlook
Because of the wide span of what legal nurse consultants do, they can work 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, or business and industry legal departments, or they can be self-employed with their own independent practices.
The median annual salary for legal nurse consultants is more than $80,000, according to PayScale data from February 2022. Several factors may influence the specific salary an individual receives, such as education level, years of experience and location. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 9% job growth for registered nurses between 2020 and 2030.
Pursue a Crucial Career
The role of the legal nurse consultant stands at the intersection of healthcare and the law. Their work helps bring clarity to medical situations attached to various forms of legal cases. It can also bring a much-needed measure of closure to a patient or a patient’s family. This can make a job as a legal nurse consultant one that is equal parts noble and satisfying.
Duquesne University’s online Post-Master’s Certificate in Forensic Nursing can help guide you toward this exciting and important profession. Our program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and features courses that can help you gain expertise in several key areas associated with the field, including Forensic Science and the Legal System, Criminal Law and the Courts, and Advanced Forensic Nursing.
Explore the program and start making a difference as a medical professional in the legal system.