Paralegal medical consultants serve the same role as legal nurse consultants (sometimes called nurse paralegals), but don’t necessarily have a nursing license. What they will have, as a matter of course, is a substantive medical background – maybe as an MD or a physician assistant. They combine formidable training in both the medical and legal fields to help bridge the gap between those enormously complicated fields – and there’s a big demand for them as a result; in litigation firms specializing in malpractice lawsuits and defense, with insurance companies, and with healthcare organizations.
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Paralegal medical consultants are consultants in the truest sense of the term: Lawyers and other paralegals rely on them to help make sense of complicated medical procedures and conditions, and consulted turn to them to help understand legal obligations in the complex medical regulatory environment.
They are translators, breaking down legal concepts for medical professionals and making medical jargon understandable for lawyers and paralegals.
What Does a Paralegal Medical Consultant Do?
One aspect of working as a paralegal medical consultant that many people enjoy is the variety of roles and the ability to rapidly shift between some pretty interesting cases. As a consultant, you are often brought in to address only the most relevant, incisive aspects of a case. Much of the grunt work and boilerplate will land on other people’s desks.
The role varies from setting to setting.
Paralegal medical consultants for law firms usually are involved in the meat and potatoes work of litigation. Whether or not the office specializes in medical cases, a consultant will usually be brought in to review and advise on any case with a medical component to it.
This can include:
- Malpractice suits
- Work injury claims
- Labor law case involving medical workers
You may be given responsibility for interviewing clients and witnesses to get your specialized take on the information they offer. You will likely sit in on strategy meetings and write briefs for other members of the legal team to offer your perspective from the medical angle.
Hospitals and Doctor’s Offices
Medical providers use paralegal medical consultants to review their practices to ensure that their liability is limited against medical malpractice cases. This might mean being involved in processes that include:
- Reviewing procedures for legal propriety
- Helping to determine and write policy manuals for staff
- Oversee handling of patient information and records
You may also be consulted on current cases, if there are questions about legal obligations of the provider to carry out certain treatments or otherwise accommodate the patient.
Insurance companies use paralegal medical consultants as expert resources when they are putting together policy offerings, to ensure that they are complying with insurance commission regulations and properly structuring their liability in claims. This can include putting together the actual policy language as well as advising and assisting other staff about the general coverage provided.
Even more frequently, consultants are used to review current claims and to work with lawyers representing the insurance company when defending against lawsuits, or when the company is defending a policy-holder in a lawsuit. Medical malpractice insurers use paralegal medical consultants to help prepare and depose witnesses, advise the legal team, and work with executives to help them understand the medical and legal nuances at play.
Because their expertise is valuable but limited to specific scenarios, most paralegal medical consultants don’t work directly for any of the employers above, but instead work independently or as part of a consulting group and contract out to work on specific projects or cases.
Being a consultant is a whirlwind of client management and juggling various unrelated projects. Fortunately, paralegals come to the table with formidable organizational skills and an unremitting attention to detail that also makes them excellent consultants.
One aspect of consulting that is not often deeply considered, however, is marketing. Whether operating independently or as part of a larger practice, consultants are often responsible for getting out there and drumming up business.
How to Become a Paralegal Medical Consultant
Acquiring advanced expertise in two very complex fields is difficult and that’s why paralegal medical consultants are both rare and well-paid. Gaining the experience in both those fields that is necessary to provide the sort of accurate analysis and judgment that clients expect is even more difficult.
In many cases, nurse paralegals go through nursing school and begin their work in medicine before later going on to pursue paralegal credentials or undertake legal studies. There is nothing that prevents you from doing it the other way around and getting a paralegal education and experience first, however.
In either case, a professional certification specific to paralegal medical consulting can be valuable. Since there are no formal licenses for paralegals in this niches, a certificate can be the only real way that potential employers have to evaluate your education.
The only current certification available for paralegal medical consultants is the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) credential from the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants.
The LNCC requires that you take and pass a four-hour, 200-question exam designed to test your application of legal knowledge to medical issues. The fee for the test is $325 for ALNC members and $425 for non-members. Although the exam is computer-based, it can only be taken at an approved LNCC testing center; lists of upcoming exam dates and locations are available on the website.
Other Certificate Options
A large number of paralegal degree programs also offer specializations or certificates in paralegal medical work. These may be taken online or on-site and can cost around $1000. They may also require that you currently have an RN license, but some are available to paralegals as continuing education credits.
Without the extensive practice requirements as outlined by the LNCC, however, these programs are typically not as highly regarded by potential employers.