If you enjoy medical problem-solving, researching and analyzing information, and working with others, then legal nurse consulting may be for you. Read on to learn about the salary, job description, and education requirements needed to become an LNC.
Part One What Is A Legal Nurse Consultant?
Legal nurse consultants are members of a specialty in which nurses provide invaluable consultation and expertise to attorneys about medical issues. With strong roots in clinical nursing practice, LNCs apply the nursing process to evaluating relevant, complex information in legal cases.
Legal nurse consulting took root in the late 1970s as a specialty area of nursing, and further established itself with the formation of the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) in 1989.
LNCs do not practice law and are not paralegals. They fulfill a unique role in bridging the gap between the legal process, healthcare science, and patient outcomes. Legal nurse consultants work in many settings, including independent consulting practices, insurance companies, and legal firms, to name a few.
Part Two What Does A Legal Nurse Consultant Do?
Legal nurse consultants perform a dynamic and varied role. They apply their skills in a number of legal practice areas that are continually evolving as healthcare, medical science, and legal practice change. The AALNC identifies the following practice areas for LNCs:
- Medical malpractice
- Personal injury
- Long-term care litigation/elder law
- Product liability
- Toxic tort
- Workers’ compensation
- Risk management
- Life care planning
- Regulatory compliance
- Civil rights
- Employment discrimination
- Medicare set-asides
Legal nurse consulting allows you to work independently and with many types of people, and requires that you function well under pressure. Regardless of work environment, LNCs perform many specialized functions that include:
- Reviewing and analyzing medical records
- Conducting client interviews
- Conducting medical literature review
- Identifying medical professional standards of practice
- Identifying and securing expert witnesses
- Translating healthcare language for attorneys and other legal staff
- Educating attorneys about medical issues
- Providing testimony in court as an expert witness
- Preparing for depositions and trials
- Producing exhibits for trials and depositions
- Serving as a jury consultant for the legal team
- Consulting on product liability cases
It is essential that LNCs accept only those cases in which they have a solid clinical foundation. The LNC performs many functions on behalf of the legal team and its clients. A focus in medical-surgical and/or critical care nursing can prepare the LNC to address issues related to a broad range of legal cases. LNCs may also have specialized nursing experience as well, including orthopedics, obstetrics, neurology, cardiology, oncology, and rehabilitation.
Part Three Where Do Legal Nurse Consultants Work?
The LNC has diverse opportunities to for work environments and must evaluate many factors when deciding on a practice environment.
Questions to ask yourself are:
“Do I prefer working alone or do I thrive on consistently working around people?”
“Do I have sufficient financial reserves to manage the inevitable ebb and flow of private practice?”
“Is a smaller, dynamic company my ideal work setting, or do I prefer the structure of a larger corporation or government agency?”
Regardless of setting, the LNC field offers endless opportunities for professional growth and development. According to the AALNC, potential work environments for the LNC include:
- Business and industry legal departments
- Forensic environments
- Governmental agencies
- Healthcare facilities
- Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
- Insurance companies
- Law firms
- LNC consulting firms
- Patient safety organizations (PSOs)
- Self-employed independent practices
Part Four What Is The Salary Range For LNCs?
Legal nurse consultant salaries vary according to practice specialty, level of education and credentials, years of experience, employer size, and geographic location.
In May 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual wage for a nurse working in the hospital setting at $68,450 ($32.91/hour). The salary range for nurses was $47,120 (the lowest 10%) to more than $102,990 (the highest 10%).
It’s difficult to find salary ranges specifically for legal nurse consultants, although web searches find ranges as high as $150 per hour, and indicate that serving as an expert witness in a legal case may command even higher hourly rates.
It’s important to carefully research nursing opportunities in your area to uncover details about job openings and salary potential. If you’re considering opening a private practice, be sure to consider business opportunities in your geographic area, the number of hours you wish to work, and the percentage of time you’ll spend in non-billable activities, such as marketing, invoicing, and other non-revenue-producing activities.
True professionals, especially those in independent practice, often do not discuss or publicize their rates. In fact, discussing professional rates on email and via social media might be construed as an attempt to price-fix.
One experienced LNC pointed out that in the past, the consulting rate for an LNC was considered to be three to four times the hourly rate as the “typical” nursing salary in the same locale, but with increased nursing salaries, a more accurate estimate may be twice the local nursing hourly rate.1
With the above caveat in mind, it’s helpful to know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the top five states for RN salaries are:
If you decide to work in an LNC employee role, be sure to evaluate local salary ranges plus any potential total compensation package with a big-picture view.
Does the employer support professional development with tuition support and paid days off? Is health insurance coverage part of the benefits package, and if so, what is your responsibility for self, spouse/partner, and dependent coverage? How many paid days off can employees earn per year?
Finally, be sure to research the cost of living expenses in your area, including housing, taxes, transportation costs, and many other costs.
Legal nurse consultants in private practice must develop a multi-faceted business plan that includes an adequate budget for office rent, marketing costs, travel expenses, cost of office equipment and supplies, liability and other insurance premiums, necessary non-billable activities, employee salaries and benefits, and many others.
Part Five What Is The Career Outlook For LNCs?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that nursing employment will grow at a rate of 16 percent through 2024 -- much faster than the average for all jobs. Plus, the aging of baby boomer nurses who are nearing retirement and the growing health demands of boomers, are causing a current and predicted future nursing shortage.
The field of legal nurse consulting is unique and therefore difficult to predict the demand. Carefully research your local market and the potential opportunities it offers, including the density of potential employers and clients discussed in Part Three above.
Part Six How Do I Become A Legal Nurse Consultant?
If legal nurse consulting is your goal, you must first become a registered nurse. To do so, you must take the following steps:
- Graduate from a two- year program for an associate’s degree in nursing, a three-year program for a diploma in nursing (usually hospital-based), or a four-year college or university program leading to a bachelor’s degree in nursing
- Take the RN licensing exam after graduation, also known as the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The NCLEX is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States and Canada
- Once you pass this exam, you may apply for your first nursing job
Legal nurse consultants need to have a solid clinical nursing background so that they have an understanding of the medical nuances involved in cases.
Work in general medical-surgical nursing, as well as specialty areas including obstetrics, orthopedics, rehabilitation, neurology, cardiology, and others, can provide a solid foundation for the LNC, and LNCs may also have advanced education, such as a Master’s or doctoral degree.
Part Seven Certifications For Legal Nurse Consultants
Although it is not required, LNCs who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the profession and best practices in legal nurse consulting may decide to become certified as an LNC through the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC).
This credential is accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS), and is comparable to recognized nursing credentials such as RNC, CCRN, CEN, CPN, and CCRN.
By taking a national exam, LNCs demonstrate their commitment to achieving and maintaining the highest standards of practice in the field. A number of organizations offer courses and certificates in legal nurse consulting, however certification through the AALNC is the only credential that compares to those available in clinical specialties. The designation for an LNC certified through the AALNC is LNCC.
Requirements to sit for the certification exam include:
- Current licensure as an RN in the U.S. or its territories (full and unrestricted license)
- A minimum of five years practicing as an RN
- At least 2000 hours of documented LNC experience within the past three years
Part Eight Where Can I Learn More About LNCs?
There are many sources that can help you find out more about legal nurse consulting. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants offers a number of publications as well as an official publication, the Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting, which is available at no cost to AALNC members and the general public.
In addition to the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants, a number of other organizations also provide information about the role of the LNC and/or nursing and legal issues:
It is also helpful to network and ask for introductions to currently practicing LNCs. Your local chapter of the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants can be a starting point for finding a contact that may even become a professional mentor.
Part Nine Where Are The Best LNC Jobs?
Many sources can get you started in your search for LNC opportunities.
First, check the “Careers” pages of websites of medical malpractice firms and LNC consulting firms that interest you. Many online resources are available for job searches, including nursing social media sites, career sites, and dedicated nursing career sites.
You may want to join your local AALNC chapter and pursue networking opportunities, and/or place your name in the online marketing database on the AALNC website so that attorneys may search at no charge an LNC with specific expertise or to be an expert witness.
Legal nurse consulting can be a fulfilling and rewarding career, both professionally and financially. To be a successful LNC requires developing top-notch medical research skills, honing analytical and problem-solving skills, excellent communication abilities (both written and oral) and the ability to juggle multiple priorities while maintaining professional and personal composure.
Achieving certification in the field demonstrates that you’ve achieved a level of competence that is measured by a national examination and opens doors to further opportunities. Legal nurse consultants can look forward to a career that is ever-changing as trends in medical and legal practice constantly evolve.
1. Iyer P. Creating a strong fee schedule and contract, The Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting; 26(1) 2015: 12-15.