Legal Nurse Consultants (LNCs) are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who provide critical analysis of clinical issues in a legal setting. They may testify as an expert witness in a court case about a victim’s injuries or attend independent medical exams as a neutral third party. LNCs have an in-depth knowledge of the healthcare system, medicine, and nursing. They can work as independent consultants, or for insurance companies and legal firms. They bridge the gap between healthcare science, the legal process, and patient outcomes, making them uniquely qualified to serve as members of a legal team in any setting.
In this article we explore the following:
- What are the responsibilities of a legal nurse consultant?
- What are the education requirements for LNCs?
- What is the certification process for LNCs?
- How much do LNCs make?
- What is the career outlook for LNCs?
What are the responsibilities of a legal nurse consultant?
The role of a legal nurse consultant continually evolves because of the changing nature of the healthcare and legal arenas. Regardless of their job responsibilities or areas of practice, LNCs must keep a calm demeanor and function well under pressure. Some of the most common duties for legal nurse consultants include:
- Classifying medical professional standards of practice
- Conducting client interviews and medical literature reviews
- Educating attorneys and other legal representatives about medical issues
- Identifying expert witnesses and securing their testimony for court proceedings
- Preparing for depositions and trials
- Producing exhibits for depositions and trials
- Reviewing and analyzing medical records
- Serving as a jury consultant for a legal team
- Testifying as an expert witness for depositions and trials
LNCs can work on civil rights cases, employment discrimination suits, product liability allegations, and workers’ compensation claims, among other legal practice areas. Best practices advise legal nurse consultants to work only on cases in which they have a solid clinical foundation. For the most well-rounded experience, LNCs should focus on critical care or medical-surgical nursing during their studies.
What are the education requirements for LNCs?
To work as a legal nurse consultant, you must first become a licensed registered nurse (RN). Exact requirements may vary by state, but all follow similar steps. You must check with the licensing board for your state to verify the prerequisites before you begin the process. Here are some of the most common paths to becoming an LNC.
- Earn an ADN or a BSN degree. Some states like Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York require nursing candidates to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) before they can sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Other states may only require an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Even in states where a BSN is not required to become an RN, nursing candidates should consider taking this extra step. Earning a BSN opens the door to jobs with greater responsibilities and higher salaries. There is a popular bridge program to go from an ADN to a BSN. This allows you to earn a BSN in about 12-18 months.
- Qualify for an Accelerated BSN. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline, you may qualify for an accelerated BSN program. These 12-to-18-month programs allow you to focus on healthcare and nursing skills needed for your new career.
- Pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Six weeks before graduating from your nursing program, you can schedule to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. There is a six-hour time limit for completing the 75 questions on the test. Nurses who do not pass the NCLEX-RN exam on their first attempt must wait 45 days before trying again.
- Become certified. RNs are not required to become certified but doing so increases the opportunity for career advancement.
Once you have your RN licensure, you may want to work in the field for a few years to gain extensive clinical nursing experience. Having this background will help you succeed as a legal nurse consultant. Some of the areas most recommended for LNCs include cardiology, neurology, obstetrics, orthopedics, and rehabilitation.
While not required, some LNCs choose to earn an advanced degree like a master’s or a doctorate. There are some great bridge programs that help cut time spent in school while still giving you the opportunity to earn advanced degrees.
What is the certification process for LNCs?
Certification is not required to work as a legal nurse consultant. LNCs who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the profession and adherence to best practices may choose to take this extra step. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) is the certifying body. Nurses who pursue certification will take an exam based on an analysis of legal nurse consulting practice. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions in the form of case studies. It takes about four hours to complete the exam.
Certification lasts five years and can be renewed at the end of the term. Recertification eligibility requires that LNCs meet the following criteria:
- Hold a current, unrestricted RN license
- Complete 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting practice work within the five years of their original certification period
- Finish 60 contact hours that meet published criteria or pass the LNCC certification exam.
Legal nurse consultants can learn more about the certification and recertification process on the AALNC website.
How much do LNCs make?
The level of education, years of experience, and credentialing affect the salary of legal nurse consultants. Other factors that influence salary include geographic location and the size of the employer. According to Payscale reports, the average salary for LNCs is about $85,000. It is difficult to gauge the true salary of legal nurse consultants since most independent consultants do not publicly advertise their rates. A separate analysis from ZipRecruiter lists each state by salary. The top 10 states for legal nurse consultants are the following:
- Washington – $96,429
- New York – $91,372
- New Hampshire – $88,424
- California – $86,190
- Massachusetts – $84,155
- Vermont – $83,415
- Wyoming – $81,720
- Hawaii – $81,531
- Idaho – $81,051
- Maine – $79,899
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What is the career outlook for LNCs?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that any nursing career that requires RN licensure will explode between now and 2029. With demand high, legal nurse consultants should choose employers that offer the best benefits. Supporting professional development, providing tuition reimbursement, and offering paid time off are all perks of an attractive employer.
LNCs that choose to go into private practice should seek assistance from a business professional who can help them develop a versatile business plan. Funds must be budgeted for things like employee salaries and benefits, insurance premiums, marketing, office equipment and supplies, office rent, and travel expenses to name a few.
Not sure whether you want to work for someone else or go into practice for yourself? Check out the available jobs for legal nurse consultants on the Incredible Health Job Board. Join for free to access these and other amazing resources.
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