Nurse paralegals, as the title suggests, are both registered nurses (RNs) and paralegals. This unique skillset allows them to bring both medical and legal expertise to a legal team, making them a valuable asset in litigation and other domains that concern medico-legal issues.
In a legal setting, nurse paralegals are an integral component of any case with a medical component. They may interview clients with medical problems and provide expert testimony to the state of their health.
Nurse paralegals generally work for law firms specializing in:
- Personal injury
- Medical malpractice
- Workers’ compensation
- Wrongful death
- Social security
But the value of nurse paralegals extends beyond the legal setting. Many times, these legal pros lend their knowledge and skills to insurance companies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. For example, medical institutions have nurse paralegals on staff who ensure the facility is operating within the bounds of the law.
Insurance companies utilize nurse paralegals in malpractice and medical claims. Nurse paralegals in these settings may be employed by the insurance carrier or work for independent agents (hospital risk management groups) who oversee malpractice for doctors and hospitals.
The Job Duties and Responsibilities of Nurse Paralegals
Depending on their role, the responsibilities of nurse paralegals may vary; however, the standard job duties of these legal and medical professionals include:
- Researching and studying legal issues
- Collecting and studying medical records
- Cross-checking facts and verifying the accuracy and authenticity of the information
- Interviewing clients and witnesses regarding their health
- Composing, organizing, and filing legal documents
- Providing assistance in trial preparation
- Reviewing deposition and trial transcripts
Steps to Becoming a Nurse Paralegal
The standard route to becoming a nurse paralegal includes:
Step 1. Completing a registered nurse (RN) program (may be an associate or bachelor’s degree program)
Step 2. Earning relevant nursing experience (usually at least 2-3 years)
Step 3. Completing a nurse paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)
Step 4. Completing an internship in paralegal studies
Step 5. Earning professional certification
Most paralegal professional associations, including the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) recommend that candidates complete a paralegal program of at least 60 semester credits—the equivalent of an associate’s degree.
The ABA also approves a host of nurse paralegal programs, most of which require candidates to possess an RN license and at least 2,000 hours of nursing experience. Many programs are offered online in order to accommodate the busy schedules of working nurses.
Nurse paralegal programs generally culminate in an internship, during which students receive valuable, real world experience.
Many employers require their paralegals to hold one or more professional certifications, though certification is not a legal requirement to work as a paralegal.
The following organizations offer nationally recognized paralegal certifications:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA):
- CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) credential (CRP)
- PACE Registered Paralegal credential (RP)
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA):
- Certified Paralegal (CP) credential
- NALS – The Association for Legal Professionals:
- Professional Paralegal (PP) credential
- American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI):
- American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential
Earning Specialty Legal Nurse Consultant Certification
The Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) certification exam through the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) is the specialty certification that best aligns with the work that legal nurse consultants perform.
To qualify to take the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) certification exam, applicants must hold an active and unencumbered RN license, have at least five years of experience as an RN, and have at least 2,000 hours of legal nurse consulting experience in the past five years.
Although nurse paralegals are different from legal nurse consultants, it is quite common for nurse paralegals to hold the LNCC designation.
Nurse paralegals have completed a formal paralegal program, whereas legal nurse consultants serve as a liaison between the medical and legal worlds. Formal education is not always required to become a legal nurse consultant, although a number of specialized courses and programs exist for this nursing specialty.