As a legal nurse consultant, you have several options for the role you will assume. The field is like nursing in the sense that you can move from one setting or role to another.
I consider myself a medical surgical nurse, but have had many roles based on that knowledge. In the course of my nursing career, I have been a staff nurse, educator in a school of nursing, consultant to hospitals, continuing education educator, nursing quality assurance coordinator, a seminar speaker, expert witness, director of a staff development department in a hospital, behind the scenes LNC, and author.
That’s a lot of roles! The flexibility nursing offers is one of the aspects of nursing that many of us find so rewarding. You may enter legal nurse consulting with one idea about the type of role you want to assume and then find opportunities to take on other roles and services. As an LNC, I have been an expert witness for liability and damages cases, an observer at insurance medical examinations, a researcher, consultant, educator, and author.
I’ve written summaries, chronologies, timelines, screening reports, expert reports, research reports, deposition questions, cross-examination questions, and more.
These are some of the common paths.
Independent LNC Path
An independent LNC sets up a business, markets and brings in work. This role offers flexibility of when and where you work, how you structure your business and how you play on your strengths. It is clearly for entrepreneurs, for nurses who love to be in charge of their lives, and want the freedom to be able to develop their businesses.
It is a challenging role that requires you to wear many hats – to have expertise in nursing, to set up a sound financial plan, to develop a business structure, to market and to build solid relationships with clients. It requires perseverance and determination to succeed and an understanding that building a business does not occur overnight.
The LNC as Employee
A law firm is the most common site for an inhouse LNC role, although LNCs may work for governmental agencies, insurance companies, independent LNC firms and as risk managers in healthcare facilities. If you want a steady paycheck and have some LNC experience or have performed medical record reviews in another capacity, this could be an ideal role for you. You work with a consistent group of attorneys, and have the opportunity to refine your LNC skills.
LNC work at a law firm may be interesting and varied, or it could be repetitive. Your role and work load are often defined by the attorneys for whom you work, and sometimes they do not take full advantage of your skills. You may find yourself putting in long hours in the days leading up to a trial – there is so much riding on that final step in litigation. You are an employee with the benefits that come along with that, but also the risks that your position may be eliminated.
Jobs in law firms are difficult to find and there is often competition for these jobs. You might have just the right background the firm is seeking. For example, a firm that handles a lot of birth injury cases would give preference to a labor and delivery nurse. There is a limited number of firms that have the volume of cases to justify hiring an inhouse LNC.
Many LNCs enter legal nurse consulting, like I did, as an expert witness. You may not know a lot about the field before you get a call from a nurse or an attorney asking you to review a case. You may not realize that if you agree to be an expert, that you are expected to go to trial to testify. That can be a daunting experience. You enter a new world with its own rules.
Most but not all states have regulations that define the qualifications of expert witnesses. Current or very recent clinical experience in the issues of the case or being on faculty in a school of nursing is required in many states. You need to be able to be comfortable with the issues involved in the case, to be able to write well, take a position, and have the fortitude to stand up to rigorous cross-examination.
This is an LNC path that many experts enjoy. It has the added benefit that reviewing cases as an expert witness widens the clinical nurse’s perspective. When you see the bad things that can happen to patients, you work harder to ensure they don’t happen to your own.
I gathered 41 LNCs together to share their experiences entering the field in this book: Path to Legal Nurse Consulting, Second Edition. You’ll be inspired, entertained and amused by the stories they share. Order at this link.