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Legal Nurse Consultant

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 Consultant Career Outlook

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.

Legal Nurse Consultant Salary

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:

  • 10th percentile – approximately $48,690 ($23.41/hr.)
  • 25th percentile – approximately $57,340 ($27.57/hr.)
  • 50th percentile (median) – $70,000 ($33.65/hr.)
  • 75th percentile – approximately $85,960 ($41.33/hr.)
  • 90th percentile – approximately $104,100 ($50.05/hr.)

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:

  • 10th percentile – $60,320
  • 25th percentile – $72,800
  • 50th percentile (median) – $102,149
  • 75th percentile – $187,200
  • 90th percentile – $270,400

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:

  • Entry-level LNCs, 0-5 years (109 respondents): $78,000
  • Mid-career LNCs, 5-10 years (59 respondents): $80,000
  • Experienced LNCs, 10-20 years (82 respondents): $85,000
  • Late-career LNCs, 10-20 years (54 respondents): $96,000

How to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant

 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:

  • Step 1: Complete high school (or obtain a GED) – To begin, all aspiring legal nurse consultants must complete high school or obtain a GED. Furthermore, those who have an interest in working as a legal nurse consultant should also take (and excel in) courses focusing on science and mathematics, including those in biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, trigonometry, statistics, and related electives.
  • Step 2: Complete an accredited nursing program (2 – 4 years) – Upon graduation (or attainment of a GED), an aspiring legal nurse consultant must then enroll in a nursing program. At this stage, aspiring legal nurse consultants can choose to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) or a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN). Although admission standards vary, potential students should expect to submit records of ACT and/or SAT scores, official high school transcripts, personal statements (500-600 words), letters of recommendation, and an application fee. Some programs may require candidate interviews as well. Aspiring RNs are advised to seek out nursing programs accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing/a> (AACN) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). In general, the curriculum for these programs will include a number of similar courses, including those in biochemistry, biology, anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, laboratory courses, as well as other science-related electives. It’s important to note that both BSN and ADN programs require hands-on clinical training.
  • Step 3: Pass the NCLEX and get certification as a registered nurse (up to 1 year) – Once an individual has successfully completed one of the aforementioned programs, he or she must register for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Those who pass are then eligible to receive a RN license issued by one’s State Board of Nursing and by extension, to begin work as a registered nurse. To maintain RN licensure, states typically require nurses to take continuing education and garner professional experience.
  • Step 4: Obtain experience as a RN (timeline varies) – After passing the licensing examination and becoming a registered nurse, an individual then has the ability to gain experience working in the field. The type of job available upon completion of one of a nursing program depends on a number of factors, including availability, connections developed during school, specialized training, and more. At this stage, it may also be advisable to begin one’s legal training either through an employer or one of many optional LNC training programs.
  • Step 5: Get training in legal nurse consulting (timeline varies) – Although this step is optional, a formal education program may assist the aspiring legal nurse consultant with the transition into this field. In general, the AALNC—the sole certification authority in this field—does not endorse any specific program for aspiring legal nurse consultants, and no formal LNC education program is required to practice. That said, aspiring legal nurse consultants may benefit from participating in paralegal programs, legal seminars or conferences, or one of the legal nurse consulting courses and mentoring programs nationwide as described by the AALNC. Many of these may culminate in the awarding of a certificate that demonstrates the holder’s proficiency in the field of legal nurse consulting; again, while this is not required to practice as an LNC, it may be looked highly upon by future employers. Additionally, it can help to fulfill the 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting required to pursue voluntary national certification through the AALNC.
  • Step 6: Pursue national credentialing through the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB) – At this stage, it is optional to complete a Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC®) program. Although it’s a voluntary credential, it may be advisable in order to enhance one’s earning and employment prospects. The ALNCCB was established by the AALNC in 1997, and its LNCC® certification program is accredited by the American Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC). To qualify, candidates must have active RN licensure, five years of experience in nursing, and at least 2,000 hours of practice as a legal nurse consultant during the previous five years. Additionally, LNCC candidates must pass a comprehensive examination. For a detailed examination of qualifying experience, check out the ALNCCB’s Eligibility Criteria. These credentials are valid for five years and may be renewed with the submission of proof of continued RN licensure, 2,000 LNC practice hours, and either proof of 60 qualifying contact hours or a passing score on the exam.

Legal Nurse Consultant Tasks and Responsibilities

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:

  • Organizing and analyzing medical records and related litigation documents
  • Conducting interviews with clients
  • Assisting lawyers and legal staff in the development of case management and trial strategies
  • Helping with depositions and during trial, including developing and preparing exhibits to be displayed
  • Finding and preparing evidence to be used during a trial
  • Attending independent medical examinations when requested
  • Acting as a liaison among lawyers, healthcare providers, experts, and clients
  • Identifying standards of care as they relate to cases involving alleged medical malpractice, as well as causation and damage issues
  • Assisting in the determination of the merits or potential defensibility of a case

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.

Professional Certficiation and Licensure for Legal Nurse Consultants

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.

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