A legal nurse consultant works to bridge the gap between the legal and the medical fields. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) describes these professionals as “licensed registered nurses who perform a critical analysis of clinically related issues in a variety of settings in the legal arena.” The range of employment environments include law offices, independent practices, government agencies, patient advocacy groups, insurance companies, HMOs, consulting firms, and business & industry legal departments.
The AALNC adds a detailed breakdown of the job responsibilities in this interdisciplinary career. In broad terms, legal nurse consultants are medical professionals who operate as part of a legal team, often acting as medical experts and assisting lawyers and other professionals. They interpret charts & patient diagnoses; analyze pertinent medical information; prepare chronological case histories & medical discussions for legal documents; help assess damages; evaluate a plaintiff’s medical needs & costs; interview clients & help identify expert witnesses; provide consulting services; and even testify in court. LNCs work in a variety of strategic roles, addressing topics of litigation such as workers’ compensation, risk management, civil rights, personal injury, forensic & criminal cases, medical malpractice, and employment discrimination, to name a few.
For those considering working at the intersection of the legal and medical fields in a dynamic, high-growth career, this guide provides a detailed discussion of the career outlook, salary prospects, and steps to becoming a legal nurse consultant.
Legal nurse consultants occupy a niche career and therefore traditional data sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) do not provide an analysis of projected job growth in this field. That said, LNCs typically become registered nurses prior to training in the legal field. Furthermore, they must be registered nurses to qualify for voluntary professional certification through the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), which is discussed below.
The BLS (2017) predicts that there will be an explosion in job opportunities for registered nurses nationwide; between 2016 and 2026, there’s expected to be a 15 percent increase in openings for RNs, much faster than the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that time (7 percent). With the addition of 438,100 fresh RN positions across the country in the coming decade, there are expected to be a wealth of opportunities in the field, including for legal nurse consultants.
As mentioned above, legal nurse consultants typically become registered nurses prior to receiving legal training or seeking professional LNC certification. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the 2,955,200 RNs employed around the country had an annual average salary of $73,550 or $35.36 per hour. In more granular terms, these healthcare professionals had the following salary percentiles:
Although the BLS did not have data specifically on legal nurse consultants, PayScale, a site which relies on self-reported wages, offered a breakdown of its responding LNCs. PayScale (2018) found that its LNCs made an average annual salary of $102,149 ($49.11/hr), significantly more than the BLS salary average for RNs. Additionally, PayScale found the following salary percentiles among its 257 LNC respondents:
Not surprisingly, the figures tended to vary based on level of experience as well. Here were PayScale’s median annual salaries among responding LNCs broken into four categories of experience:
Many aspiring legal nurse consultants choose to pursue a nursing education and RN licensure prior to their legal training. Others may get an education in criminal justice or legal studies before becoming RNs. Still others pursue an LNC certificate or training program, a list of which is provided by the AALNC. Here is one possible path to becoming a legal nurse consultant:
So what exactly does a legal nurse consultant do on a daily basis? And furthermore, does this vary depending on one’s industry or the workplace setting?
Naturally, not all legal nurse consultants will retain the same type of routine responsibilities over the course of their careers. There are some tasks that legal nurse consultants perform on a relatively regular basis, which include the following:
The responsibilities of a legal nurse consultant also vary based on his or her work environment or industry. By illustration, a legal nurse consultant employed in a law firm may be asked to summarize medical records, conduct medical literature searches, communicate with expert witnesses, and prepare medical documents to be used by the attorneys throughout the course of a case. A legal nurse consultant who works at an insurance company, by contrast, may instead be asked to perform a variety of case management tasks, or act as a utilization review specialist, medical bill auditor, policy development coordinator, or even a claims adjuster.
Finally, some LNCs work full-time in their roles as legal consultants, while others may work more traditional nursing jobs while earning extra income on the side, working hourly or part-time providing LNC services.
In sum, the qualifications and job responsibilities of legal nurse consultants vary, and aspiring LNCs are advised to contact educational programs or industries of interest to see what they can offer.
There are two types of official recognition for a legal nurse consultatnt to consider: nursing licensure and specialty certification.
To obtain a nursing license, nursing school graduates must sit for the NCLEX exam and submit all necessary materials to the state board of nursing in the state where they will practice. Nurses should expect to submit to fingerprinting and a background check in addition to sharing clinical and educational records. Nursing licenses must be maintained through regular continuing education efforts and must typically be renewed every two years. A license in good standing is a legal requirement to act as a nurse in a clinical setting.
Professional certification for legal nurse consultant is not legally required, but as mentioned, can be helpful for professional advancement. The AALNC offers certification for this specialty to qualified nurses. In order to sit for the 200-question exam, applicants must have a nursing license in good standing, must have practiced as a nurse for a minimum of five years and must have at least 2000 hours of legal nurse consulting experience within the five years prior to applying.