If you’re already a registered nurse with a few years of experience in your field, you may find yourself having mastered all of the ins and outs of your position. But you may not know that there’s an opportunity for you to use your knowledge to make some extra money.
Legal nurse consulting can be a lucrative field for experienced RNs, and you may not even have to work that hard to add it to your repertoire.
What Is a Legal Nurse Consultant?
Legal nurse consultants are expert registered nurses that use their years of clinical experience and more to offer expert advice from a medical perspective to law firms, insurance companies, and more.
LNCs differ from positions like paralegals in a law firm, as they also maintain their qualifications and spend the majority of their time working in hospitals to serve patients.
What Does a Legal Nurse Consultant Do?
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Legal nurse consultants dispense their expertise in the medical field to organizations or individuals to help settle cases and solve problems in a variety of fields.
LNCs may be called upon to serve as expert witnesses in trials or to offer their opinion of a clinician’s behavior in a medical malpractice lawsuit. LNCs can also work in organizing and documenting pertinent medical records, educate attorneys before a trial, make long-term cost estimates for care, and more.
Legal nurse consultants work for themselves as self-employed contractors, though they often have their own places where they tend to practice.
Where Do Legal Nurse Consultants Practice?
According to the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), there are several common settings where LNCs may find themselves working regularly, including but not limited to:
- Law firms
- Government agencies
- Insurance companies
- Healthcare facilities
- Forensic environments
- LNC consulting firms
- Self-employed independent practices
- Patient safety organizations
- Business and industry legal departments
Essential Legal Nursing Consultant Skills
Though you will have obtained a certain skill set during your time as a registered nurse, there are certain skills you should be honing to have a long and successful career as an LNC.
Attention to Detail
Though you may expect a lot of dramatic courtroom moments as an LNC, a large portion of the work is just poring over medical records.
It may not seem like much, but the ability to make a determination from the giant pool of information you’re going to be researching is going to be a big part of your success.
Outside of just looking over medical records, you’ll be meeting or observing many people that are trying to get a decision made in their cases one way or the other, so you’ll need to be observant to see if everything is as it should be for your case to succeed or fail.
Ability to Communicate
Though you may think of yourself as an expert communicator, remember that you also will have to constantly bring people that aren’t experts in your field up to speed on what they need to know.
You’ll have to communicate complex medical ideas to lawyers, judges, insurance adjusters, investigators, and more on a daily basis in addition to your patients. Though you may feel like you’ve mastered this aspect of your position with your patients by this point, remember that your patients are personally invested in learning information because it directly pertains to their physical health.
As noted above, you will have to make a determination on cases and then go forth to communicate your decisions to the people that contract your services.
You may end up having to make some tough decisions in situations that you don’t like, but absorbing all of the information and coming to a fair conclusion is going to be another key for success in this position. At the end of the day, the reason LNCs are employed is due to their expertise and their ability to make expert decisions.
The better your decisions turn out for those that employ you, the more your reputation will grow and the more people will seek out your services, which will both increase your pay rate.
Legal Nursing Consulting Salaries and Job Outlook
Because of the size of the industries that LNCs interact with the most, there are always going to be opportunities for a good LNC, or someone that is looking to break into the field. A job search on the AALNC job board shows that there are opportunities around the country for people looking to make a name for themselves as LNCs.
Though the pay rate depends on your experience as an LNC, there are general guidelines as to how much you can expect to make.
You’ll be adding your LNC fees on top of your salary as an RN. Registered nurses can make anywhere from $59,000 all the way up to $113,000 depending on the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Legal Nursing Consultant?
It can take anywhere from five to seven years to become an LNC. To become an LNC, you first have to become a registered nurse. In order to become an RN, you need to pass your certification exam after obtaining a degree in nursing.
The general path to getting the degree depends on which route you choose, but can last anywhere from a year and a half to up to four years, then you have to pass the licensing exam, and get some experience under your belt before organizations generally start to think of you as someone who they’ll want to bring on as a pro.
This time frame accounts for your time in school, your time to study for and pass the licensing exam, and your time to gain the experience as an RN to be able to do the job competently.
How to Become a Legal Nursing Consultant: A Step-by-Step Guide
As we’ve previously touched on, you’re looking at a very clear path before you can call yourself an LNC.
Step 1: Get Your Nursing Degree
You have to become a nurse before you can give expert opinions as a nurse. You’ve got options when it comes to obtaining your certification in this field, but first, you have to satisfy the education requirements.
You could get a two-year associate degree in nursing from a community college or technical school, which is the quickest path to becoming an RN. You’d still participate in clinicals, which are opportunities where students get to follow around experienced RNs in healthcare environments to get some on-the-job experience.
There are a couple of key differences between getting an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree in nursing, however.
With an associate degree, you get a good grasp on the fundamentals of nursing like nutrition and pharmacology, and you’re on your way to becoming an RN much quicker. However, with a four-year bachelor’s degree from a university, you get a chance to take those fundamental courses along with courses on the ethics of nursing, the psychology behind it, and more.
Though it’s faster to jump into the field with an associate degree, you can rise higher in the field with a bachelor’s degree to become a nurse practitioner and more, so it all depends on your goals.
Step 2: Take Your Licensing Exam
After you’ve earned your degree, you’ll have to obtain authorization to test from your nursing regulatory body and then take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
After passing the NCLEX, you’ll be able to apply for your first job as an RN.
Step 3: Work as an RN
The expertise you earn as an RN will make all of the difference when it comes time to apply for LNC positions.
A clinical nursing background is key to earning positions in fields like general medical-surgical nursing or specialties like orthopedics, rehabilitation, cardiology, and more.
After about three years of working as an RN, you’ll have a grasp on the position that will allow you to start working as an LNC. Several jobs will list this minimum requirement in their listing, though you may be able to find positions with less experience depending on the job.
Step 4: Apply to Work as an LNC
You may have an easier time obtaining a legal nurse consultant certification, but you can also try applying without one.
Required Education to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant
While the only technical requirement to become an LNC is the RN certification, there are also programs to prepare you for the process of becoming an LNC as their own, self-contained courses.
Best Programs and Courses to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant
Several colleges and universities offer online programs where you can learn more about what it takes to become an LNC from people with experience.
Duke University offers a one-month course for people interested in entering the LNC field. The course costs $2,195, but for that price, you’ll be gaining a deeper understanding of the LNC field from professionals who have already been practicing for years.
Gaining first-hand instruction advice and information from seasoned veterans can be almost invaluable in a discipline where detail means everything.
Florida Atlantic University
This program from FAU lasts for eight weeks and is geared towards people with three years of clinical nursing experience. This program focuses on not only what it takes to work as an LNC, but what it takes to secure employment in the field, as you’ll be offering a presentation to a legal professional over the course of the class.
This course is also more affordable at $795 and counts for 33 continuing education hours for the RN who has to satisfy those requirements.
Legal Nurse Consultant Certificates
Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC)
While the only you should also consider becoming a Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) through the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board.
In order to obtain your LNCC, you’ll need an RN license, at least five years of experience practicing as an RN, and evidence of 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting within the past five years.
The AALNCB lists examples of legal nursing consulting that they’ll accept on their website. After you have satisfied the eligibility requirements, you’ll be asked to take an exam to obtain the certification.
As a certified legal nurse consultant, you’ll be able to command respect, along with higher payouts, when it comes time for you to offer opinions in legal cases and other pertinent situations.
Should You Become a Legal Nurse Consultant?
Yes, especially if you’re looking to add more money to your bank account. LNCs have higher earning potential than your average RN just by the virtue of having more ways to earn income.
The industries you’ll encounter are very stable, as there will always be a need for people who can answer tricky medical questions on a daily basis in insurance adjusting, the courts, and more. There are very few downsides for experienced RNs to gaining experience as an LNC, and you may find yourself enjoying the change of pace that it provides in your routine.
Yes. As all LNC jobs hinge upon the nurse’s expertise in the field, you need years of clinical experience in order to earn them. The only way to get this experience is with a nursing degree and an RN license.
No. All you need is experience as an RN and the ability to do the work. Generally, a job listing will make it clear if they’re looking for someone that is LNCC, so make sure to look out for that ask when applying.
The quickest way to become an LNC is by getting your two-year associate’s degree, your RN license, and then going straight into the field to gain your experience. However, by obtaining an associate degree, you may not advance in your RN career as fast as someone with a four-year bachelor’s degree, though you can always go back for a bachelor’s at any time.
LNCs are employed for their ability to give an expert, legally binding medical opinion on cases. You wouldn’t be expected to know much about legal workings of cases. However, it may help you to learn a bit about how your opinion will be used in upcoming cases.
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