Legal Nurse Consultant The Buzz


Medical knowledge and experience is in demand. And not just in hospitals. Law firms are hiring nurses to clarify health-related issues in legal cases.

Marguerite Barbacci had worked as an RN (registered nurse) for about 13 years. Then she decided to make a career change. Barbacci became a legal nurse consultant. And now, as a director for the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), she can't imagine doing anything else.

A legal nurse consultant, or LNC, is an RN who uses her medical knowledge and experience to help lawyers prepare legal cases related to health-care issues.

Those who hire LNCs include law firms, government agencies, insurance companies, and hospital risk management groups. Of all the members of the AALNC, about half are self-employed.

Law firms hire the most LNCs. Plaintiff firms who specialize in personal injury, defense firms involved in liability cases, and criminal defense firms all need the services of an LNC.

Barbacci started out working for a plaintiff firm. There, she would interview clients who were considering litigation. Much of her time would also be spent in the library and the hospital, reading medical records and talking with physicians and patients.

"It was stuff I'd been doing for 13 years [as a nurse]," says Barbacci. "Every day as a nurse you're reading medical records."

Now she is working in the sector of liability investigation for an independent consulting company that is owned and run by a nurse. "The majority of my day is spent reviewing records and writing the chronology of the events that happen to a certain person. A lot of research goes along with it. I spend a lot of time online."

Barbacci works from her home office. There, she has a good number of medical texts that she can refer to as well.

"It's challenging: a lot of reading, attention to detail, and a great deal of writing."

Barbacci thrives on this because it's what she loves to do. "This is the longest I've spent in any single career."

Dennie McCabe is the president of the Denver chapter of the AALNC. She emphasizes that people should look into the many options and varieties of work available to an LNC.

McCabe works on the personal injury side of cases. But she says that some prefer to work in medical malpractice. She notes that many ER and surgical nurses enter legal nurse consulting.

McCabe recognizes the importance of hard work when working independently. "You have to be self-motivated, or you won't get anything done," she says.

Just as the work settings and specializations are different for each LNC, so are the tasks they may perform. The AALNC says legal nurse consultants may conduct client interviews, research and summarize medical literature, prepare chronologies of medical events, or teach lawyers about the medical facts in a case.

Medical knowledge and experience are the key to being a successful LNC. "You really need the experience," says Barbacci. "I'd recommend you have a minimum of three to five years [of] experience [as a nurse]. If I hadn't had the varied experiences that I did when I started, I couldn't have done it. This is not an entry-level profession."

All that experience pays off. "The average salary for a nurse in independent practice is about $65 to $75 an hour," says Barbacci. "It's going to vary." She estimates that a salary in a law firm would start in the high 40s to low 50s.

There are certification programs for LNCs, but they aren't necessary. "That's something that I really want to emphasize," says Barbacci, even though she teaches an LNC course at a community college. "You don't need any specific nurse consultant training."

The AALNC board does offer certification, however. The applicant must have a full and unrestricted RN license and a bachelor's degree or the equivalent of five years of experience as an LNC. They must have practiced as an RN for two years and have accumulated 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting experience three years before applying.

A legal nurse consultant brings experience, education, professionalism and a demonstrated commitment to the medical field into the world of law. Nothing compares to real-world experience in health-care issues. And more and more law firms are recognizing the great value of the services of a legal nurse consultant.

Links

American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants
Great info on the scope of practice

Vickie Milazzo Institute
Offers training for LNCs