For most of you, a court of law is the very last place you’d ever volunteer to be. As a nurse, you understand the looming threat of facing a malpractice lawsuit all too well, but have you ever considered working with the legal team?
While you may dread the mere thought of becoming a defendant, entering the courtroom as a nurse under oath has its own allure and a generous financial incentive. Working as an integral part of the legal team, you’ll go behind the scenes while gaining a new perspective on the inner workings of healthcare law.
While an attorney has a vast understanding of the legal system, you have a specialized knowledge base of your own! Collaborating with the legal team, you become part of a synergistic legal force and are given an opportunity to have a tremendous impact on the lives of those involved in the case. Typically, attorneys call upon nurses in two areas of legal partnership:
- Legal Nurse Consultant
- Expert Witness
Behind The Scenes
As a Legal Nurse Consultant, you will act as a teacher- assisting the attorney in understanding the medical components of the case. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) asserts that a consultant’s primary role is “to evaluate, analyze, and render informed opinions on the delivery of health care and the resulting outcomes.” As a Legal Nurse Consultant, you may help the attorney to review documents, summarize medical records, conduct information searches, develop demonstrative evidence, or clarify issues surrounding your specialization.
On The Stand
According to a NursingLink interview with Elizabeth Rudolph- an attorney and nurse with twenty years of experience practicing health care law, expert testimony is important in helping a jury better understand the facts surrounding incidents of medical malpractice. Your testimony as an Expert Witness will help the jury to understand the nursing standard of care, if the nurse in question deviated from that standard, and if that action caused harm to the patient. Through your testimony, you will help the jury to understand the specifics of the case and to arrive at an educated verdict. In cases of alleged malpractice, be sure to keep in mind the following tips:
- When testifying, use layman’s terms- avoid medical jargon.
- Prepare to defend anything you’ve written on the subject.
- Look for holes in your own testimony and strategize with your attorney to determine the best defense.
How to Get Started
Although experience may sometimes trump educational requirements, most lawyers look for a nurse who has at least a BSN and specialty certification. Authoring published articles may help you gain attention and recognition within your specialty but, at this time, no further credentials are required.
Unlike fact witnesses who can be subpoenaed to testify about their involvement in a case, expert witnesses participate on a purely voluntary basis. If you’re serious about pursuing a role as a legal nurse consultant or expert witness, you can proactively reach out to law firms or contact medical-legal organizations.
While you’ll be working with your attorney to win the case, don’t forget there is an opposing legal team looking to discredit you. They may look for inconsistencies in your published work and will most likely produce expert witnesses of their own.
Though there are full-time positions in this field, almost 50% of nurses choose to pursue legal nursing as a part-time addition to their full-time career. In addition to a flat trial fee, nurses may earn up to four times the hourly rate of a staff nurse for document review and pretrial preparation!