Want to work in the medical field? Want to practice law? It may seem like an either-or scenario: choose a path in the medical or the legal profession.
Actually, it doesn't have to be. If you have a curiosity and appetite for medical and legal pursuits, a career as a legal nurse consultant lets you excel in both medicine and law. And, it offers the opportunity to earn a generous compensation with increasing job growth and demand well above most positions in the medical field.
Legal nursing consultants support their employers—usually lawyers, insurance companies, or other businesses—by using their medical expertise to advise on legal cases related to medical malpractice, workers' compensation, and more.
Careers in legal nurse consulting have only become formalized in the last few decades by the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) and its board-certification Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) program. The position developed to meet growing demand for registered nurses with legal expertise, particularly as the number of licensed attorneys in the U.S. grows and medical malpractice and worker's compensation cases increase.
So, what's it like working in the field? Martha Holley-Jones, a legal nursing consultant, summed it up this way on Monster: "Our main role is educating attorneys… We're like their ace in the pocket."
Shifting from traditional nursing to legal nursing means a change in setting. Instead of patient care in a clinical environment, your day-to-day tasks may involve conducting interviews, working on depositions, preparing materials to be shown in court, and seeking out expert witnesses.
This isn't a field you can just jump straight into. Legal nurse consultants must follow the traditional path, becoming registered nurses (RN) before branching off to become legal nurse consultants.
In this article, we'll cover:
Working at the intersection of medicine and the law, legal nurse consultants support lawyers by examining documents to help make assessments for legal cases. They review medical records, disability records, employment histories, and X-rays, among others. Typical duties include:
Some of the areas of the law where legal nurse consultants offer their expertise include the following, as outlined by the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC):
The skills and traits that help legal nurse consultants succeed are similar to those needed for general nurses, including:
Legal registered nurses typically work in office settings, though some travel may be required. Here's where most legal nurse consultants practice, according to the AALNC:
Additionally, some legal nurse consultants are self-employed, working as contractors to any and all of the employers listed above.
According to Monster.com, about half of legal nurses work in office settings. They work on staff at law firms, insurance companies, and other businesses. Their hours are likely set by their employers, with most working the standard eight-hour day. The other half work as independent consultants or run their own businesses. They are freer to set their own schedules (but must also deal with the hassles of self-employment).
Glassdoor reports that registered nurses who specialize as legal nurse consultants can earn an average of $82,614 per year. That compares favorably to the average salary for registered nurses, which is $64,270.
The first step to becoming a legal nurse consultant is obtaining a two-year associate's degree in nursing.
The next step is becoming licensed—a requirement for registered nurses in all 50 states, D.C., and U.S. territories. Obtaining an RN license involves:
While completing additional education is not required, doing so will likely improve your chances of career advancement. A legal nurse consultant called to testify at trial is more likely to impress a jury if they have a BSN or MSN, and employers certainly consider that in their hiring decisions.
A four-year bachelor's degree in nursing and a two-year master's degree of science in nursing (MSN) will not only improve your prospects as a legal nurse consultant but will also broaden your options in other areas of registered nursing and advanced practice nursing.
Many universities, professional organizations, and businesses offer legal nurse consulting certificate programs. Select graduate school programs offer a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in legal nurse consulting. However, these are not required for—nor do they guarantee—board certification as a legal nurse consultant.
Schools offering an MSN with a concentration in legal nursing include:
According to the AALNC, all aspiring legal nurse consultants must complete their education requirements and also accrue an additional five years of nursing experience, including a minimum of 2,000 hours in a legal nursing consulting role. Only then can they obtain board certification from the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB).
The Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC)—created by the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board and accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS)—is the only legal nurse consulting credential recognized by AALNC and ABNS.
Requirements for becoming an LNCC include:
As noted above, legal nurse consulting attracts a wide selection of employers, including self-employment. NurseJournal reports a robust job growth rate for legal nurse consultants of 21 percent.
To stand apart, aspiring registered nurses can focus on gaining the skills, education, and experiences that employers typically seek out in candidates, including:
Legal nurse consultants report high job satisfaction levels, with an average rating of 4.1 on a scale of 1 to 5, per salary-tracking website PayScale.
Within the larger field of nursing, the U.S. is facing a nursing shortage and now, more than ever, employers are in need of top-notch talent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a job growth rate within nursing of 12 percent through 2028, much faster than the overall average for all occupations.
The catch? To become a legal nurse consultant, you need to love the law as much as you love medicine and healthcare. You are the legal team's go-to insider expert and often its most valuable asset on critical medical cases, translating complex medical problems and records into terms lawyers, judges, and juries can understand. If you're ready to merge your passions for medicine and the law, a career as a legal nurse consultant could be an excellent choice for you.
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