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What is the role of a legal nurse consultant?

Given that nursing is one of the most in-demand professions in the US, it is perhaps no surprise that a large number of related jobs have begun to emerge outside of a typical hospital or family practice setting. Although they require the same educational grounding and practical experience as any other nursing jobs, positions such as school and hospice nurses, registered nurse health coaches, informatics nurses and legal nurse consultants all come with their own particular duties, interests, specialist skills and level of responsibility.

In this article, we will be focusing on the last of these positions – legal nurse consultants (LNCs) – as we examine what the job entails, what kind of nurses might be suitable for the role, and how they can benefit the legal profession and society as a whole. We will also look at the type of educational path available for registered nurses who would like to work on legal matters, as well as the popularity of nursing as a second career among various types of professionals.

What is a legal nurse consultant?

A legal nurse consultant is a registered nurse who works in close conjunction with the legal profession in order to provide assistance on a wide range of cases. They will use their nursing experience and educational background to provide advice and make recommendations to attorneys and other members of the legal profession. Generally, legal nurse consultants serve as a bridge to help fill gaps in the knowledge of the legal experts in question, though their expertise can be applied in many different law-related areas, from insurance claims to developing workplace safety regulations at companies.

Although legal nurse consultants are not attorneys or paralegals, they are responsible for evaluating the medical-related aspects of cases to ensure that they are being handled accurately. Indeed, while it is true that legal nurse consultants may work on criminal cases or crime scene forensics, this is only one aspect of the profession. Often, they will be involved in legal issues that are specifically related to the medical profession and medical practices, where their expert guidance is often invaluable.

Areas of application

Areas of application can include medical malpractice and personal injury suits. For example, a law firm might take on a personal injury case of someone who broke their leg in a workplace accident. Although the lawyer will likely have a good understanding of the legal liability in this kind of situation, they may not be familiar with the specific medical details, such as the severity of the injury, the expected recovery time, or possible future complications.

Here, the nurse can provide valuable insight into standard medical practices and give indications of when something was not done according to procedure. They may also be able to offer information in terms of the physical or mental injury suffered by the plaintiff(s). Other areas of use can include long-term care litigation, product liability, risk management and employment discrimination.

It is also a growing profession. In addition to the increase of lawsuits related to medical practices in the US that often require expert testimony, there are also many more people under extended medical care – something that can often increase the likelihood of legal issues arising. This is in part due to the aging population, with more and more people requiring medical treatment, while the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can also raise legal issues.

Places of employment

Legal nurse consultants can be employed by a number of different organizations, either on a full-time or consultancy basis. Naturally, some legal nurse consultants work for law firms or even specialist consultancy firms, while others may operate in larger healthcare facilities or health maintenance organizations. Insurance companies may also employ a legal nurse consultant to help them process and evaluate medical-related claims. Other typical places of employment include the legal departments of companies and businesses, governmental agencies and even patient safety organizations (PSOs).

Often, the specific role relates to the nurse’s specialist field of expertise in their medical career, whether it is caring for the elderly, offering critical care in a hospital, or treatment for mental health issues or addiction. For example, if there is a legal case relating to a patient who received psychiatric care, a nurse who has experience, training or a specialization related to the field of mental health will be more likely to be hired as a consultant for that particular case.

Although it can vary depending on the location, specific role and place of employment, as well as the level of experience of the individual, legal nurse consultants generally receive a higher salary than other registered nurses. In addition, most legal nurse consultants enjoy the additional mental challenges of this kind of profession, while the relative flexibility of the work and the opportunity to choose your own schedule can also be a huge benefit. 

Main duties

What are the main responsibilities of a legal nurse consultant? The typical duties include reviewing and analyzing medical records, conducting client interviews, and reviewing any other medical literature that may be relevant to the case at hand. For example, if there is a case where some kind of malpractice is suspected, then they may be asked to look at the relevant medical records to determine whether proper measures were taken and were accurately recorded.

Legal nurse consultants may also be asked to explain medical professional standards or even help identify expert witnesses who could be used to give evidence. For instance, in a case of neglect, the nurse consultant may be asked to determine how a patient should have been cared for, and to decide whether they received appropriate care, and also to prepare any relevant medical documentation, such as specific guidelines or a timeline of events.

Within the courtroom

Although most of the work of a legal nurse consultant does take place outside of the courtroom, they may also be asked to be an expert witness in a trial and provide testimony in either a deposition or in the courtroom itself. In some cases, legal nurse consultants may also be asked to serve as a jury consultant for the legal team, or consult on product liability cases.

The main duties of a legal nurse consultant often appeal to more experienced nurses who are less keen on continuing to commit to the often physically demanding schedule of a nurse in a hospital setting. They might also be suitable for people who choose nursing as a second career, and have some relevant experience with the legal profession or even the insurance industry.

A specialist approach

While many registered nurses tend to have a more general medical role – particularly in the hectic environment of a hospital, for example, where they might have to serve several different departments or fulfill a wide range of different duties – becoming a legal nurse consultant is more about specialization. Indeed, while there is no doubt that there are many overlaps between the work of a registered nurse and that of a legal nurse consultant, particularly in terms of the application of their professional working knowledge, it is also clear that there are many differences.

First and foremost, the focus of the nurse shifts away from the diagnosis and treatment of patients toward the legal analysis of specific and also more general cases. Although the goal of the legal investigations in question may be any number of things, there is still often a chance for the nurse to provide a valuable service to the community, and their work can often be crucial in ensuring that medical standards are adhered to and that victims of malpractice or criminal acts receive justice.

It should be noted that while legal nurse consultants are always fully qualified registered nurses, they do not require specific certification in order to qualify as a legal nurse consultant. This is in contrast to nurse attorneys, who have completed a law degree in addition to their nursing qualifications. This does not mean, of course, that relevant education and a high degree of preparation is not important in the career of a legal nurse consultant.

Educational pathway 

Becoming a legal nurse consultant is one of a number of options that are available for professionals interested in jobs for nurses outside the hospital – you can read more about jobs for nurses outside the hospital setting by visiting Elmhurst University’s website, linked to here. These kinds of positions are often particularly well-suited to people who have come to nursing as a second career, and can bring with them the experience of their previous roles. Fortunately, there are a number of courses available that are specifically designed to help fast-track people who already have a degree in a different field.

With an online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Elmhurst University, for example, prospective nurses who already have a bachelor degree in another field can complete the course in as little as 16 months, before then taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a fully qualified nurse. Graduates emerge with a detailed knowledge of both adult and pediatric healthcare, with particular emphasis on the application of evidence-based medicine and theories, principles and processes needed to care for patients of diverse populations whether they are experiencing acute, chronic or complex health problems.

Further learning

Naturally, even upon graduation, registered nurses interested in fulfilling a role as complicated as a legal nurse consultant will look to gain further experience in nursing, while a certain degree of specialist preparation is also required. This might take the form of peer-to-peer discussions of cases, while another health professional with knowledge of dealing with legal cases may also be able to provide helpful instruction. Several postgraduate courses may provide further instruction and are also attractive to employers.

There are also a number of short-term training courses that can provide further information on this kind of role. It is also essential to remain up to date on the latest developments. Indeed, this kind of specialist role requires a firm commitment to lifelong learning, with further emphasis placed on personal reading and research, and working hard to have a detailed knowledge of the legal issues that most typically arise in cases where a legal nurse consultant may be required.

A new adventure

Today, there are a number of new pathways opening up for nurses who love their profession, but would also like to explore alternative avenues of work. While some nurses choose to stop working as a practicing nurse entirely, it is also possible to become a legal nurse consultant on a part-time or consultancy basis, which means that it is an excellent choice either way.

There is no question that a registered nurse who would like to work as a legal nurse consultant not only needs to have a high level of expertise in terms of the nursing profession, but must also have excellent attention to detail and the patience and organizational skills for dealing with a wide range of different people and situations.

At the same time, it is also worth remembering that their knowledge and concrete understanding of the medical field makes legal nurse consultants an extremely valuable resource for many types of organizations – it is not only a secure career choice, but also a brilliant way to try different avenues of work while still utilizing nursing expertise. Indeed, if nurses are able to master the intricacies and difficulties of this challenging profession, then becoming a legal nurse consultant can be the first step to a new and exciting career.

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