Nurses in the Legal Field
Job description of legal nurses
Nurses who work in the legal field provide support to legal professionals, such as attorneys and insurance adjusters. In the past, only physicians were hired to interpret the medical aspects of a case. They gave opinions on diagnosis and treatment issues.
Legal nurses in the 1970s
In the early 1970’s, insurance companies took a new look at how to lower their expenses. It was easy to see that the lesser the disability, the lower the medical expenses, and the lower the ultimate settlement amount. In order to accomplish this, they needed a medical team to evaluate the medical care and offer a plan that could potentially lessen the permanent disability. In walked the rehab nurse and the physiatrist (MD specializing in rehabilitation) to fill this role.
I was one of those nurses; one of thirteen rehab nurses hired by one of the “big five” (as the five largest insurance companies in the U.S. were called). The country was divided into regions. My region was the southeast. The role was new and the job description was evolving. My objective was to get the claimant as well as possible, as quickly as possible, with as little disability as possible. Under the supervision of the physician, I directed the patient’s care from the onset. As legal professionals became aware of the great knowledge and ability of RNs, they integrated us into many aspects of their practice. The field has evolved into what we have today and is still evolving.
Jobs done by legal nurses
Textbooks and courses have been written on the different roles of the legal nurse. The following descriptions are in the simplest of terms and are not meant to be all-inclusive.
- Legal nurse consultants review cases that involve injury and provide an insider’s view of the medical aspect of a case. They are hired by the attorney and not by the claimant. The nurse is a support person for the attorney and it is usually considered unethical for the nurse to work directly for the claimant.
- Nurse paralegals review cases and offer opinions based on their legal knowledge as well as medical knowledge. They work as support staff for attorneys.
- Life care planners develop financial plans for the future care of an injured person, used mostly in litigation.
- Case managers manage the patient’s case covered by insurance for the insurance company or for the patient themselves.
- Elder care mangers work with the geriatric population and plan their care. The person responsible for paying for the care usually hires them. This may be an elder care attorney managing a trust, a family member, or the patient himself or herself.
- Rehabilitation nurses plan the care of an injured patient when there is a potential to lessen the disability. Rehabilitation nurses usually work with rehabilitation facilities and/or insurance companies, including worker’s compensation.
- Forensic nurses work with patients who are allegedly victims of criminal acts and collect both physical and verbal evidence. They also testify in court regarding the evidence and how it was collected.
- Medicare set-aside consultants develop a portion of a financial plan that outlines the amount of money to be set-aside for future medical care.
Work status of the legal nurse
The work status of the legal nurse can be either as an employee or consultant (independent contractor). An employee’s workplace is the office of their employer and/or in the field where their client is. Consultants usually work out of their home office or private office. Some legal nurses only work with the medical record and never see patients.
Income for a legal nurse
A legal nurse consultant working full-time income can be as high as $100,000 annually and more. However, remember that business expenses including taxes must be subtracted from that amount lowering the amount that actually goes into the nurse’s pocket.
Education required for a legal nurse
You don’t need more education to practice in the legal field. You do need to be an RN and know how to do the job. You can learn how to do the job from reading a book, taking a course, or working with an experienced nurse who will mentor you. You don’t need to be certified to practice. If you choose to be certified or if your employer requires it, look for the association that has an independent certifying board that tests your skills with an examination. Some certifying boards require up to two years practice in the field to qualify for the exam.
How to find out more about legal nursing
If you are interested in finding out more about the legal nursing, go to the websites of the associations that represent that field. They offer a great deal of detailed free information. If they have local meetings, ask if you can visit.