Intro – Certified Legal Nurse Consultant
The economy has been struggling for almost a decade, but there are plenty of good jobs available if you are in the right field.
You’ve probably heard that the “medical field” always needs workers, and while this is true, it’s a vague comfort. It could involve anything from drawing blood to performing brain surgery.
Today, we are going to look at one specific career that is going strong and provides steady work for those in the medical field: the certified legal nurse consultant. If you are looking to transition to the medical field, or if you already have a nursing degree, this could be the position for you.
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What Is a Legal Nurse Consultant?
A legal nursing consultant is a nursing expert who bridges the gap between the medical and legal professions.
He or she has a nursing degree and works with attorneys, paralegals, and other professionals. The legal nurse consultant interprets, researches, and analyzes the medical facts and plays an important role in medical-related legal issues, including medical malpractice, personal injury, product liability, workers’ compensation, risk management, elder law, criminal law, and forensics.
In the past, legal nurse consultant jobs were informal, and positions were filled on an as-needed basis. However, as the legal system has specialized, so too has the role of nurses in the field.
Since the 1980s, certified legal nurse consultant jobs have required, at the very least, a four-year nursing degree and accreditation from a licensed school or training center.
One should note that a legal nurse consulting certificate does not convey a professional nursing designation, and completion of a program does not signify expertise in anything but legal matters. To avoid confusion with the standardized programs offered by nursing certification boards, a nurse should not use “LNC” after his or her name. Instead, the title should be listed in the education section of a resume or curriculum vitae.
What Are the Key Duties of a Legal Nurse Consultant?
Legal nurse consultants can find work in a wide variety of roles, including positions at law firms, insurance companies, government agencies, hospitals and HMOs, and legal nurse consulting firms.
Once certified, legal nurse consultants can work in a variety of environments, and their job duties can vary from case to case. However, the same skill set is applicable to all legal nurse consultant jobs, and basic responsibilities are similar across positions. Some of the main duties include:
- Reviewing medical records – The legal nurse consultant looks at records to determine whether there was professional negligence as well as the extent of injuries and damage. They may also be asked to identify medical standards of care and determine whether those standards were met in a particular case.
- Educating colleagues – Most lawyers do not have medical degrees, and explaining the evidence to the legal team is a key duty for a legal nurse consultant. Jobs may require preparation of charts, timelines, and presentations.
- Investigating cases – The legal nurse consultant may be asked to determine whether a potential case has merit, or he/she may be asked to analyze the evidence of a case already pending in court. During the discovery phase of a case, the nursing legal consultant might advise an attorney as to what evidence should be requested.
- Preparing for trials – The legal nurse consultant may prepare reports, summaries, and exhibits; help a trial attorney understand testimony or help prepare a witness for trial.
- Testifying as an expert witness – Medical doctors are not the only individuals who can provide expert testimony. The legal nurse consultants, too, may be asked to provide facts, data, and opinions.
Essentially, the main role of the legal nurse consultant is to provide an informed opinion on the quality of health care and then to analyze the results of the care.
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How Does One Become a Legal Nurse Consultant?
The RN is the basic designation that all certified legal nurse consultants must have. A master’s degree in nursing is not necessary. However, the certification requirements are such that it would be difficult for anyone to obtain the required hours of experience without an MSN.
Certified legal nurse consultant jobs do not require any specific nursing experience. Previous experience in an emergency room, hospital administration department, private practice or public health clinic can all be relevant. Prior legal experience is helpful but not required, as training programs and on-the-job experience provide the relevant knowledge.
In addition to receiving medical training, the nurse legal consultant must take a number of law-related courses. Specific requirements vary depending on interest, previous education, and the courses offered by the licensing program. Classes typically cover topics such as contract law, legal terminology, litigation practice, and courtroom procedure.
There are two main certification programs. The first, offered by the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB), provides the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) credential. The other, offered by the National Alliance of Certified Legal Nurse Consultants (NACLNC), leads to a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC) credential.
The ALNCCB program requires all candidates to have an unrestricted RN license as well as evidence of 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting work over the previous five years. Candidates who meet those criteria must then pass an exam or have 60 “contact hours,” which are billable hours spent with attorneys and/or legal clients. The exam covers subjects including:
- How to assemble records to show standards of care, causation, and damages
- Facilitating communication between clients, expert witnesses, and lawyers
- Drafting legal documents
- Conducting self-directed research
- Developing case strategy throughout the legal process
- Testifying as an expert witness
The NACLNC program, on the other hand, only requires candidates to have an active RN license and take a basic certification class before taking a test. Fifty-nine percent of the exam covers knowledge and comprehension, and forty-one percent tests for application and analysis. A successful examinee will be able to demonstrate:
- Understanding of the litigation process and the role of the legal nursing consultant
- Knowledge of both science and different theories of liability in medical legal cases
- Knowledge of malpractice, personal injury, products liability, and workers’ comp claims
- Ability to detect tampering with medical records
- Understanding of managed care litigation and the role of expert witnesses
- Understanding legal ethics and the basic principles behind contract law
- An ability to market oneself and to conduct interviews
If you are considering undergoing legal nurse consultant training, be careful when you select a program of study. Certifications from the ALNCCB are the only ones recognized by both the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants and the American Board of Nursing Specialties.
However, the CLNC program is the official certification of the National Alliance of Certified Legal Nurse Consultants, the largest association of legal nurse consulting professionals in the United States. Both certifications will open many doors, but, depending on specific career objectives, one may be more appropriate than the other.
Of course, one could attempt to work as a legal nursing consultant without any formal training. Attorneys are free to hire anyone they choose, and a nurse with relevant knowledge is not excluded from consideration simply because they don’t have a professional designation. However, certification provides a competitive edge and makes it easier to show relevant knowledge.
Many schools offer legal nurse consultant training. From large state universities to small unaccredited online programs, candidates should have no trouble finding a program to suit their needs. Note that not all programs offer certification testing, and one should make sure that a course of study is appropriate for the intended test.
All legal nurse consultants begin as RNs, either via a two-year or four-year degree program. Some nursing experience is recommended, too, as a consultant with more medical knowledge will be more in demand and can command a higher salary.
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What Legal Nurse Consultant Jobs Are Available?
Once an individual has become a legal nurse consultant, jobs are plentiful. And those new to the field can work part-time in legal nurse consulting while still working full-time in other specialties. In fact, the most recent study shows that 48% of nurse legal consultants work part-time. Of those individuals, 30% worked less than 5 hours a week as legal nurse consultants, and 24% worked 5–10 hours a week in the profession.
Of course, full-time work is also available; 52% of legal nurse consultants work in the field full-time. These positions cover a wide range of duties: 47% of the legal nurse consultants run their own legal nurse consulting firms, 19% are employed by law firms, and 6% work for consulting firms. Of these full-time workers, 50% earn more than $50,000 per year, and those who have their own businesses often earn significantly more.
Legal nurse consulting firms can provide excellent experience and high salaries. These positions offer stable hours with excellent pay and benefits. Similar environments can be found in law offices, hospitals, insurance companies, and large medical practices.
The legal system in the United States continues to grow, and, to date, twenty-five percent of the almost two million attorneys in this country handle cases involving medical records. Most lawyers have little or no medical training and need help understanding medical language and records.
A legal nurse consulting career offers an exciting twist on traditional medical and legal careers. The variety of opportunities makes it the perfect position for people who want to learn on the job, develop expertise, have an impact on lives, and develop a business. And, the vast range of duties of the nurse legal consultant makes this field suitable for almost any personality type.
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