What Are Legal Nurse Consultants?

Legal nurse consulting is the evaluation and analysis of facts and the rendering of informed opinions related to the delivery of healthcare services and outcomes. With a strong foundation based on education and experience, the LNC is qualified to assess adherence to standards and guidelines of nursing practice. LNCs can be successfully used in litigation other than medical malpractice, such as personal injury, toxic tort, product liability, criminal, will disputes, and matrimonial cases.

The LNC is a licensed registered nurse. He or she performs a critical analysis of clinical and administrative practice, healthcare facts and issues, and their outcomes. Services are provided to the legal profession, healthcare professions, consumers of healthcare and legal services, and others as appropriate. The LNC’s services are rooted in his or her expertise as a nurse. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) has defined legal nurse consulting as a specialty practice of the nursing profession, a position endorsed by the American Nurses Association in 2006.

Nurses providing legal nurse consulting can be found as employees in many settings, including in the plaintiff or defense firm, the risk manager’s office, federal and state agencies, and the insurance companies. An equal number of LNCs are self-employed (called “independents”) and provide services to clients on both sides of the bar.

LNCs are not paralegals
Some role confusion exists regarding the differences in preparation and functions of a paralegal versus a LNC. By definition, paralegals and legal assistants are qualified by education, training, or work experience to perform specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Some legal education is typically a requirement for paralegals. Paralegals learn about general law, legal research, torts, legal writing, civil litigation, and technical litigation support. A simple explanation is that the paralegal has some education about law, and the LNC is a nurse who has developed expertise in assisting attorneys with medical issues.

Although many LNCs have acquired knowledge of the legal system through such experiences as consulting with attorneys and attending seminars, legal education is not a prerequisite for the independent practice of legal nurse consulting. Professional nursing education and healthcare experience make LNCs unique and valuable partners in legal processes.

LNCs are not usually nurse paralegals
Many attorneys, unfamiliar with the term legal nurse consultant or its abbreviation, LNC, may refer to the nurse as a “nurse paralegal”. Unless the nurse has taken a paralegal program, this term is incorrect. The correct use of the term refers to a nurse paralegal is a paralegal who is also a nurse. In contrast, a legal nurse consultant is a registered nurse who consults on healthcare issues within the legal arena. Confusion about roles arises also because in some settings legal nurse consultants perform some of the same work that legal assistants and paralegals do, particularly in small law offices.

While LNCs may acquire knowledge about legal documents, such as complaints, interrogatories, requests for production, and the like, most LNCs have no legal training and are not frequently used to draft legal documents. Their focus does not include wills, real estate transactions, and other areas of non-healthcare-related law which is a typical part of paralegal education. These tasks do not make the best use of the legal nurse consultant’s skills.

Legal education programs offered for nurses by legal assistant or paralegal education programs also cause confusion about roles. To the extent that legal education is provided to nurses by legal assistant or paralegal education programs, it should be considered separate from the education of paralegals and legal assistants because of the differences in their practice in the legal arena. AALNC’s position, therefore, is that LNC education should be developed and presented as specialty nursing curricula by nurse educators in partnership with legal educators.