How to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant

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Legal nurse consulting is the application of nursing knowledge, training, and clinical experience in medico-legal cases. This discipline encompasses evaluating standards of care, causation, damages, and other medically related issues through the examination of healthcare records, medical literature, legal documents, and other pertinent information. Legal nurse consultants develop case-specific work products and opinions, which are then used by legal professionals handling medico-legal cases or claims.

Legal Nurse Consultant Job Description

Legal nurse consultants are registered nurses who possess an in-depth knowledge of nursing, medicine, and the healthcare system, making them valuable contributors to the legal team and in all types of medico-legal cases. Legal nurse consultants serve as:

  • Analysts
  • Collaborators
  • Strategists
  • Researchers
  • Educators

The primary role of legal nurse consultants involves evaluating, analyzing, and delivering opinions concerning medical issues and health outcomes in medico-legal cases or issues. For example, in medical malpractice cases, legal nurse consultants evaluate the delivery of healthcare in relation to the Standards of Care, while in personal injury cases, they evaluate health outcomes related to the conditions and injuries of the plaintiff.

Legal nurse consultants possess a working knowledge of substantive and procedural law within their practice setting; however, their scope of practice does not include practicing law nor does it encompass the role of a paralegal or legal assistant.

Just a few of the job duties and responsibilities of today’s legal nurse consultants include:

  • Identify, organize, and analyze medical records
  • Prepare a timeline or other summary of documentation for medical records
  • Locate and prepare medical evidence for trial
  • Conduct client interviews
  • Evaluate causation and damages issues
  • Conduct research and search medical literature
  • Identify and screen expert witnesses
  • Serve as an expert witness
  • Attend independent medical examinations
  • Act as a liaison among attorneys, healthcare providers, clients, and experts
  • Perform cost-of-care estimates for long-term care treatment and catastrophic case management circumstances
  • Educate and advise attorneys and clients regarding relevant medical issues
  • Draft and analyze the medical sections of legal documents

Legal nurse consultants lend their expertise to a variety of legal areas, including:

  • Product liability
  • Toxic tort
  • Long-term care/elder law
  • Personal injury
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Civil Rights
  • Employment discrimination
  • Medical malpractice
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Risk management
  • Forensic/criminal

In addition to working directly for law firms or as contracted consultants, legal nurse consultants also practice in settings such as:

  • Governmental agencies
  • Healthcare agencies
  • Insurance companies
  • HMOs
  • Consulting firms
  • Patient safety organizations
  • Private businesses

Legal nurse consultants provide a number of benefits to the litigation team, including:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Legal nurse consultants help attorneys select and manage cases, which may result in quicker settlements or rejections.
  • Resourcefulness: Legal nurse consultants have access to a broad array of medical and professional resources and contacts and are well-versed in medical libraries and other resources.
  • Knowledge: Legal nurse consultants possess a thorough understanding of medical issues and trends involved in the litigation process.
  • Experience: Because of their clinical background, legal nurse consultants are able to interpret medical records, documents, and health science literature.

How to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant

According to the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), most legal nurse consultants possess a registered nurse (RN) license, an advanced degree in nursing, and at least five years of nursing experience before entering the profession.

Most legal nurses have no legal background when they decide to make the transition; therefore, many prepare by earning an MSN-Legal Nurse Consulting or enrolling in a post-master’s certificate program. Still others receive their legal education through on-the-job training.

Although legal nurse consultants come from all areas of nursing, the AALNC reports that most have a broad background in medical-surgical nursing, often in critical care, which provides a familiarity with subject matter in a wide variety of medico-legal cases. Many legal nurse consultants possess extensive experience in a specialty nursing practice, such as oncology, neurology, obstetrics, and cardiology.

MSN in Legal Nurse Consulting

Many legal nurse consultants possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Legal Nurse Consulting or an MSN in a clinical nursing specialty, followed by a post-MSN certificate program in legal nurse consulting. Graduates of MSN Legal Nurse Consulting degree programs are capable of analyzing healthcare issues and their related outcomes for the legal profession and other healthcare organizations.

Curriculum

MSN degrees in legal nurse consulting take between 18 and 24 months to complete. The curriculum integrates master’s-level concepts, including pharmacology, pathophysiology, and assessment, as well as courses specific to the legal nurse consulting profession, such as:

  • Legal Theory and Fundamentals
  • Case Analysis for Medical Malpractice
  • Case Analysis for Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation
  • Risk Management
  • Trial Preparation and Forensic Nursing
  • Business Principles

Admission Requirements

To qualify for admission into an MSN-Legal Nurse Consulting program, candidates must possess a valid and unencumbered RN license, and in most cases, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Many colleges and universities offering an MSN in Legal Nurse Consulting also require that candidates possess:

  • Competitive undergraduate GPA
  • Minimum GRE scores
  • Clinical RN experience

Alternate Program/Delivery Options

In addition to traditional, campus-based MSN programs in legal nurse consulting, many institutions have begun offering these advanced nursing programs in an online format, thus appealing to the busy working professional. Most online programs involve completing all didactic requirements through distance-based study and then completing the required clinical component at partner sites close to home, often at the student’s current place of employment.

Further, a number of institutions have also begun offering MSN degree programs for RNs with various educational backgrounds:

  • RN-to-MSN Programs: Not all RNs possess a BSN; therefore, many colleges and universities offering MSN programs also provide an alternative MSN program for RNs possessing an associate’s degree in nursing. RN-to-MSN programs allow these RNs to complete the components of both the BSN and the MSN in one, streamlined format.
  • Direct-Entry MSN Programs: In an effort to attract students to the nursing profession, a number of institutions have begun offering direct-entry MSN programs, designed specifically for candidates that possess a bachelor’s degree in a major other than nursing. These programs allow students to transfer a number of their undergraduate credits, thus accelerating the process of achieving their MSN.

Professional Certification for Legal Nurse Consultants

Professional certification remains an effective way for legal nurse consultants to display a commitment to excellence in the profession. The Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) designation demonstrates that the RN has met experience and education requirements and has passed the LNCC examination.

According to the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB), legal nurse consultants with the LNCC credential have demonstrated knowledge, experience, and commitment in the legal nursing specialty. According to the ALNCCB, nurses possessing the LNCC designation must meet the same rigorous standards as clinical nursing certification programs.

To qualify to take the LNCC exam, candidates must possess:

  • A current and unrestricted RN license
  • At least five years of experience practicing as an RN
  • At least 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting experience within the past three years

The LNCC examination’s content areas include:

  • Civil rights
  • Employment discrimination
  • Forensic/criminal
  • Life care planning
  • Long-term care litigation /elder law
  • Medical malpractice
  • Medicare set-aside
  • Personal injury
  • Product liability
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Risk management
  • Toxic tort
  • Workers’ compensation

Candidates must meet the following criteria for renewal of the LNCC designation, which occurs every 5 years:

  • Maintain a current, unrestricted RN license
  • Show proof of the completion of at least 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting practice in the previous 5 years
  • Complete at least 60 contact hours of approved continuing education; OR take and pass the LNCC certification examination

Candidates can download the LNCC Exam Handbook and Application for more information.

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