A legal nurse consultant, or LNC, is a registered nurse who works with legal professionals on court cases involving medical malpractice, negligence, or malfeasance. They are responsible for explaining medical terminology, procedures, and legislation to legal professionals who are pursuing court cases. LNCs are integral to this new field, which has only existed for about 30 years, and are in high demand as companies and law firms recognize their potential contribution to the legal system. These are highly trained professionals who have at least an undergraduate degree in nursing, hold active or unrestricted RN licenses in their state, and are qualified to work as legal consultants. They are detailed-oriented and ethical professionals who use their previous experience as practicing nurses to help research and resolve court cases. LNCs can currently work as freelancers, within the government in prosecution offices, or for health insurance companies or facilities.
According to Payscale, a legal nurse consultant can expect to make around $75,000 a year. In some cases, bonuses are also applicable, but the base salary is high enough for these professionals to live comfortably anywhere in the United States.
The median beginning salary for a legal nurse consultant is around $68,000 a year as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This actual salary is determined by the level of education and any certificates earned by the professional.
Legal nurse consultants are responsible for deciphering medical terminology, health records, and procedures for their employers, most of which are legal professionals. They are most often involved in court cases that include medical malpractice, insurance fraud, personal injury, and sometimes criminal cases. They review the medical records and provide written reports to their superiors based on their findings, which can uncover existing medical conditions of a plaintiff or show violations on the part of a healthcare facility. LNCs are also sometimes asked to interview witnesses and may be required to testify in court as expert witnesses themselves.
LNCs are required to be detailed-oriented, observant, and have great research skills. They must have a thorough understanding of both medical terminology and the law. They must also have excellent oral and written communication skills. LNCs must also have great time management skills, can work without supervision, and demonstrate good decision-making skills. These professionals also sometimes work with witnesses, so it is necessary for them to be compassionate and thorough in their interviews and investigations.
Degree and Education Requirements
While it is possible for nurses to earn an ADN and become eligible for the NCLEX-RN certification, LNCs must earn at least a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited program for their position. Those who have received their diploma from an ACEN-accredited school are preferred. In some cases, schools have legal nurse consulting concentrations, which will enable students to take an internship in that particular field; this can be a benefit to their resume. In addition, students must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and receive licensure, which requires continuing education in order to maintain licensure. Candidates may also find that obtaining a Master's in Nursing or a Doctorate in Nursing Practice may provide them with better career advancement opportunities. There is a substantial difference in salaries between LNCs with an undergraduate degree and those with additional graduate or terminal degrees; the difference is dictated by the position and company that is hiring.
Rewards and Challenges
Legal nurse consulting can be a rewarding career, but it does have some drawbacks. While the profession is in demand, with many companies offering great compensation and benefits, LNC is still a freelance business. That means that professionals have to market themselves and their services to attorneys and healthcare facilities, something that can take up a lot of time. The job also requires a great deal of research and paperwork which can be less exciting than working as a registered nurse. Some professionals will find that becoming an LNC is not a viable option in their state due to the number of cases that are settled out of court instead of heading to trial; most LNCs work on active cases. The hours can be long as well, with many LNCs reporting working overtime and in stressful environments during cases. However, for professionals who like to work for themselves, enjoy flexibility in their work and have a passion for research and paperwork, this is a dream job.
Most LNCs work as registered nurses prior to moving into legal consulting. This means that all interested candidates will need to first apply for the NCLEX-RN licensure exam, pass, and become certified as an RN in their state. Professionals will also need to undergo a background check and a drug test for each position they are applying for; the regulations for these requirements vary by state, so it is advised that professionals understand the qualification parameters. An LNC usually works as an RN in a legal department for about five years, gaining enough experience to become eligible to apply for the Legal Nurse Consultant Certification, or LNCC, which is administered by the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board. It's recommended that those interested in the LNCC certification log 2,000 hours of legal medical consulting, usually through their employer. On-the-job training is a requirement for new LNCs and is administered by the company or healthcare system that has hired them.
Legal nurse consultants are enjoying a growth rate that the Bureau of Labor Statistics states is 15 percent through 2026, making it a field that is growing in demand; this is due to changes in healthcare law as well as the fact that many digital healthcare companies are opening their services to the general public. Job openings are available all over the country and these professionals will find that salary and benefits are competitive as the need grows for their particular expertise. Employment can be found in healthcare settings, such as hospitals or clinics, where the need for legal nurse consulting becomes a larger issue with changes in healthcare law affecting regulations at both the state and federal levels. Legal nurse consultants can also find work at healthcare insurance companies and law firms; government offices, such as prosecution offices and forensic departments, are also actively searching for professionals. Over time, these professionals will garner enough experience so they can open their own consulting businesses.
Legal nurse consulting is a relatively new specialty afforded to nurses, but it is nevertheless an important position. With time, training, and education, these professionals are slowly changing the way the legal system approaches medical court cases. Interested candidates are encouraged to seek more information out about this career and begin the path towards this exciting new career opportunity.