Education and Certification in Legal Nurse Consulting
The legal nurse consultant’s primary educational foundation is the theory and practice of professional nursing. Entry into the specialty requires at a minimum, completion of a formal nursing education program and active licensure as a registered nurse. Optimally, legal nurse consultants should have been licensed as a registered nurse for at least five years and have significant clinical experience in order to bring the most value to the legal nurse consulting role.
Legal nurse consulting is the analysis and evaluation of facts and testimony related to the delivery of nursing and other healthcare services. Legal nurses render informed opinions on the nature and cause of injuries and (in relation to) patient outcomes. The legal nurse consultant is a licensed registered nurse who performs a critical analysis of clinically related issues in a variety of settings in the legal arena. The nurse expert with a strong educational and experiential foundation is qualified to assess adherence to standards and guidelines of practice as applied to nursing practice.
The practice of legal nurse consulting predates any specialty organization, training program, or certification. While many legal nurse consultants have acquired knowledge of the legal system through such experience as consulting with attorneys and attending seminars, legal or paralegal education is not a prerequisite to the practice of legal nurse consulting. In the early days of the specialty, nurses became legal nurse consultants (LNCs) without the benefit of formal education, relying on their nursing expertise and informal guidance or "on the job training" from attorneys. Then as now, nurses entered the specialty with a variety of educational backgrounds and practical experiences in nursing. The nurses who founded the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants in 1989 were already practicing as LNCs when they came together to share their experience and to promote the specialty by forming a professional association.
While formal education in legal nurse consulting is not required to enter the field, there are universities, colleges, professional organizations, and businesses that offer legal nurse consulting courses that culminate with a certificate of completion. In addition, some universities have post-graduate classes in legal nurse consulting, and a few offer a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in legal nurse consulting. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants has developed and recommends incorporation of Legal Nurse Consulting: Principles and Practices, a two-volume core curriculum, into educational programs for this nursing specialty (Peterson, Kopishke, 2010).
The legal nurse consultant should continually expand one’s knowledge of pertinent clinical and legal topics (e.g. legal standards and strategy) and hone their technical skills (e.g. research and writing) which are used in the specialty practice. Continuing education is necessary to remain current in medical and legal issues, assures value for clients and employers, and to maintain licensure and specialty certification. In addition to the educational opportunities already described, the Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting and other publications (i.e. legal journals) serve as educational resources for legal nurse consultants from entry level to the most experienced in the field.
AALNC maintains the position that legal nurse consulting education programs should be developed and presented as specialty nursing curricula by nurse educators in partnership with legal educators. The qualifications of the program directors and instructors should be considered when evaluating a program. In general, programs developed and taught by experienced nurse educators who are practicing LNCs are preferred. The growth of this specialty into new practice areas and the changes in both the legal and healthcare fields pose constant educational challenges for the legal nurse consultant.
Most LNC education programs offer a certificate that testifies to the completion of a course of study and, in some cases, to passing an examination on the course material. Some graduates of LNC certificate programs chose to include letters such as "LNC" after their names, along with their educational degrees and professional credentials. AALNC does not endorse this practice. It is customary to list such certificates in the education section of a resume or curriculum vitae. These certificate programs should not be confused with the certification programs offered by nursing certification boards, which are commonly affiliated with professional nursing associations. Certification is a process that recognizes an individual's qualifications and demonstrated knowledge in a specialty. In 1997, AALNC established the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB) to administer the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) program. The LNCC certification program is accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS).
The purpose of the LNCC program is to promote a level of expertise and professionalism in legal nurse consulting. Legal nurse consultants must meet the eligibility requirements, which include consulting experience, and achieve a passing score on a multiple-choice examination to earn the LNCC designation. As with many clinical nursing certification programs, the LNCC credential is designed for those who have demonstrated experience and knowledge in the specialty.1 Certification is an appropriate goal for those who are committed to a professional legal nurse consulting practice.
AALNC supports the practice initiated by the American Nurses Association of listing one's credentials in the following order: highest educational degree, highest nursing degree if different, licensure, and professional certifications. "LNCC" is the only legal nurse consulting credential recognized by AALNC and ABNS.
1The LNCC credential can be compared to recognized nursing credentials such as RNC; CCRN; CEN; CPN; and CRRN.
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. The primary focus of legal nurse consulting education should be to build on nursing education and clinical experience and to prepare nurses to function in the legal arena. In evaluating a particular program, its mission and purpose should be compared to this standard.
Originally published: 2000