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Legal Nurse Consultant: An Exciting Option for Nursing

Monday April 3, 2000
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No one can say nurses don't have options within their field. Perhaps one of the oldest options is the legal aspect of nursing. Nurses have been practicing as informal legal consultants since the beginning of the profession, but have only been recognized and compensated for their expertise in the last 25 years. Typically, nurses were called upon to review medical records, interpret and translate data, identify a breach in standards of care, assess damages, and project future implications in medical malpractice cases. The legal nurse consultant (LNC) today functions in a much broader capacity.
Nurses Take the Legal Profession by Storm
The legal world formally recognized the value of the LNC in 1988 when the American Bar Association Journal featured the Arizona nurse consultants in an article entitled "Law Firms Branch Out." This ground-breaking article has been recognized as impetus for the development of the foundation for the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC). In 1994, the AALNC published its final scope of practice statement, which today guides the LNC's practice, professionalism, education, and research.2
Acting as a LNC is an attractive option for nurses for many reasons. LNCs can use their years of clinical experience in a challenging and professional setting and gain appreciation and understanding of a new field while also acquiring new skills. LNCs continuously build on a solid foundation of nursing expertise and are expanding and enhancing an existing career, rather than making a complete career change. One of the many attractions of legal nurse consulting is that working as a consultant does not necessarily require a total career change. An employed nurse may decide to continue in a current position, while supplementing that job with consulting work on a case-to-case basis. A work-at-home arrangement provides the professional consultant with flexibility and eliminates the need to sacrifice the security of an established job. On the other hand, a nurse may decide to leave clinical nursing and establish his or her own LNC business or find a full-time, on-location position. Becoming a LNC is something that a RN can ease into with less risk than many other job changes.
Bringing the Record to Light
LNCs are most valued for their ability to quickly digest and analyze a medical record. They have the unique ability of presenting complex medical information in a way that will provide an attorney with a greater understanding of "the full picture" from a medical perspective. The LNC is appreciated not only for the ability to clarify facts found in the medical record, but for the ability to highlight for nonmedical professionals what may have been omitted, hidden, or falsified, and what has not yet been done, protocols that were not followed, and in essence, "behind the scenes" occurrences. The ability to "bring the record to life" in this manner can be extremely beneficial to legal practitioners.
LNCs enjoy professional appreciation and respect in the legal field and are often compensated very well for their knowledge and competency. Depending on the employer, the responsibilities of the LNC can vary.
Potential employment settings for LNCs are many and diverse. The most commonly perceived forum is as an assistant to a law firm engaging in medical malpractice litigation. While this is a likely practice setting for a LNC, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Opportunities exist for LNCs wherever the need for the combined knowledge of law and medicine exist. In addition to law firms, LNCs are being used in risk management settings, governmental and regulatory agencies, HMOs, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, as well as other areas. Given the frequent changes in healthcare, it is likely that the list of practice settings for LNCs will continue to lengthen.
The evolution of nursing and the nursing profession clearly indicates that from all perspectives - legal, educational, societal, and legislative nursing - it has and will continue to change to meet the dynamic demands placed on it.3 Changing demographics, the technology explosion, globalization of the world's economy, increasing complexity of care, and the challenge of managed care have and continue to create a litigious environment for the educated consumer. We will need progressively more LNCs to meet the demands placed on the attorney, insurance companies, healthcare facilities, and federal and state government offices.
Whether your career path has taken you to critical care, community health, maternal/child nursing, or another area of nursing there has never been a more exciting time to explore a new career direction as a full, part-time, or per diem LNC.