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 (LNCs) are Registered Nurses that 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 consultants 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.
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.
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?
Legal Nurse Consultants can work in a variety of 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 the 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 Legal Nurse Consultant Salary
Legal nurse consultant salaries vary according to practice specialty, level of education and credentials, years of experience, employer size, and geographic location.
The median annual salary for registered nurses was $73,300 per year as of May 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS doesn't specify salaries for Legal Nurse Consultants, but Payscale reports that their average annual salary in 2020 is $77,773 or $49.47 per hour.
Legal Nurse Consultant Salary Factors
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:
|District of Columbia||$92,350|
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.
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.
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 How to 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.
- LNCs may also have advanced education, such as a Master’s or doctoral degree.
Part Six What are the Top Legal Nurse Consultant Programs?
This list is based on a number of factors including:
- NCLEX pass rate
- Acceptance rate, when available
- Only ACEN and CCNE approved programs are eligible
Our selection panel is made up of 3 Registered Nurses with years of experience and multiple degrees:
- Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
- Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
- Kathleen Gaines, MSN, BSN, RN, BA, CBC
There are numerous ways to become a legal nurse consultant, but this ranking focuses solely on certifications and courses for existing registered nurses. Because individual nursing pathways and careers take various forms, the top 10 legal nurse consultant programs are ranked in no particular order.
Program Cost: $2,195
Program Length: 1 month
Created for anyone with an active RN license, Duke University's legal nurse consulting program prepares nurses to apply their skills to the legal field. This entirely online program consists of six modules completed over one month. Nurses complete modules synchronously, meaning at the same time, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 8:30-4:00. While the courses cannot transfer into a graduate program or count toward continuing education, it's tough to find a better institution for healthcare education than Duke.
Program Cost: $1,195
Program Length: 6 months
Offered as a single course, Stony Brook University's legal nurse consultant training is designed for both RNs and PAs. The course takes 42 hours to complete, though it's split into three sessions. Stony Brook designs sessions to take roughly two months, so completed in order this program takes about six months to finish. While long, Stony Brook does offer an incredibly low rate for the course, and nurses have plenty of flexibility with studies during the course.
Program Cost: $1,900
Program Length: Varies (self-paced)
Louisiana State University New Orleans' legal nurse consultant course comes entirely online and is self-paced, meaning nurses can finish the course as quickly or slowly as they'd like. The 10 module course also counts as 100 CNE credits which nurses earn at the end of the course. Upon finishing the modules, nurses also receive a certificate of completion. Students also have the option of completing a two-day preceptorship, a show of an active legal nurse consultant in New Orleans, Louisiana. The combination of price, exposure, flexibility, and CNE opportunities make this an excellent option.
Program Cost: $795
Program Length: 8 weeks
With one of the most affordable legal nurse consultant certificate programs, Florida Atlantic University attracts nurses from across the nation. The online program requires an active RN license and three years of clinical nursing experience, so only experienced nurses may apply. This eight-week program also counts as 33 continuing education credits and prepares nurses to take the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified exam. The cost alone makes this a great option, both for the certificate and continuing education credits.
Program Cost: $1,195
Program Length: 2 months
Available to both RNs and PAs, the University of Georgia's legal nurse consultant training prepares students to take and pass the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified exam. The program uses bi-monthly start dates with six start date options throughout the year, and students complete their courses online. The program requires 42 hours to complete and counts toward 4.2 continuing education credits. This quick, affordable program requires a much lower time commitment than other options on this list.
Program Cost: $600
Program Length: 4 months
Washington Online Learning Institute, an entirely online educational institution, offers two legal nurse consultant routes: a four-month legal nurse consultant option or a seven-month senior legal nurse consultant option. Most RNs choose the four-month route as this certificate prepares nurses to become legal nurse consultants in all 50 states. While WOLI may be the least-recognizable institution on this list, the incredibly low cost of this program makes it an excellent option for many RNs.
Program Cost: $1,195
Program Length: 7 weeks
California State University Long Beach's legal nurse consultant training course comes entirely online, so nurses won't get to relocate to Southern California for seven weeks. However, the program is great for anyone interested in a career as a legal nurse consultant. The program requires nurses to pass several exams to earn the certificate, and CSU Long Beach estimates the program takes 42 hours, good for 4.2 hours of continuing education credits.
Program Cost: $7,320
Program Length: 15 weeks
As a post-baccalaureate program, Wilmington University's legal nurse consultant certificate requires that nurses first complete a BSN. However, the program does allow for online study, and nurses can use all credits completed in the program toward a graduate degree. Because the program uses actual college courses and credits, the cost is steeper than other programs. Anyone interested in becoming a legal nurse consultant and potentially earning an MSN could get a head start through Wilmington.
Program Cost: $9,720
Program Length: 6 months
Perhaps the most comprehensive of all legal nurse consultant programs on this list, the University of Rochester's legal nurse consultant course combines online classes with a 168-hour internship. Nurses in the program finish with over 2,000 hours of practice and can become a Legal Nurse Consultant Certified. Because the program utilizes a mandatory internship, nurses need to complete at least some of the program in-person. Also, credits completed could transfer into a degree program.
Program Cost: $1,195
Program Length: 7 weeks
The University of Arizona offers a seven-week legal nurse consultant training course designed for RNs and PAs. Like other programs, this option comes entirely online and offers six different start dates throughout the year. The course takes an estimated 42 hours to complete. While the cost is higher than similar options, students could take advantage of Arizona's extensive network.
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 Legal Nurse Consultant Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that nursing employment will grow at a rate of 12 percent through 2028 – 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 Nine Legal Nurse Consultant Resources
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 Ten Legal Nurse Consultant 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.