Category Archives: New LNC Advice

You thought this case had merit

Every law firm has a unique philosophy that guides them in their decision to represent a plaintiff or plaintiff’s estate. With that in mind, if a case is turned down, it is always for a good reason that applies to that particular firm. Most attorneys want to clearly explain reasons for denial in layman’s terms with the potential client.  No firm wants to be sued for professional negligence, so part of the explanation will emphasize that the plaintiff or family are free to seek a second legal opinion.

If you are asked to review medical records so that the attorney can determine the merits of a potential case, keep these points in mind:

  • The medical facts were not compelling during the initial review, or perhaps were not “facts”.
  • The firm does not handle this type of case – be certain you have a good understanding of the firm’s preferred specialty area
  • The case has merit but will require more money and resources than the firm can apportion
  • The firm handles high value cases referred to them by smaller firms who find merit, but cannot afford the cost of experts, records, depositions, etc.
  • The medical injury is a high-risk surgery or other event with known complications that are difficult to define as negligent
  • The permanent damages are minimal – the patient feels that past expenses support the severity of damages but in truth, future loss and costs determine the ultimate value

Know the firm’s philosophy, preferred type of work, tolerance for financial risk, and most importantly, the attorney’s first-brush legal opinion of the case. That opinion, more often than not, is accurate.

Maintaining the Veil of Anonymity

Just as new LNCs are feeling their way, so are new attorneys. And plaintiff counsel may not have a flexible budget until they have been in practice for a while.

Personal injury and med-mal attorneys who tell their clients that “they won’t pay unless their case is won” still have to cover expenses. Workers compensation attorneys must convince the injured worker that a body of work is important enough to warrant a portion of their settlement.  So even though a merit screen or a chronology is warranted, that attorney may worry that the client will not see the value in such services. After all, they expect the attorney to know if their case is viable.

On rare occasion, a new attorney may ask a nurse consultant to meet directly with a patient in case evaluation, and to accept payment for their service directly from the patient. This practice is not recommended for the independent nurse contractor.

I want my attorney to be comfortable, but I also know that my value resides in anonymity. When asked if I will accept payment from the patient directly, here is my reply.

I understand that you will pass this expense on to your client, but it is in both of our best interests to maintain a veil between me and your client.
1. An assessment for merit is a clinically objective appraisal.
2. Clients (as you know) are emotional and feel they must compel someone to agree with them.
3. My relationship as an independent contractor is with you – you are my client.
4. Merit may be in question because of inconsistencies in the client’s complaint, or because they are over-reaching, or because they equate malpractice with unforeseeable complications and mistakes. This is pivotal, but a hard pill to swallow.
5. My value to you is my invisibility because you are the principal – you are the person they want to hire – I am in the background.
6. My work product is always confidential and my opinion is withheld from experts, even when they use my objective chronology. I cannot control this process if I am accessible or responsible to anyone but you.

That said, I can write a short paragraph that explains exactly what I will be doing and why an experienced nurse should evaluate medical records.

If there is a question of merit and you decide not to take the case, I can craft a short and clear layman’s explanation of the medical injury/condition for you to incorporate into your response.

Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you in this matter.

I look forward to a long working relationship with you.

All the best,

LNCC and CLNC – what do these initials mean, really?

Attorneys are practical professionals. They seek a legal nurse who consistently delivers an excellent work product and sound opinions. They also recognize that certification should be an indicator of experience and expertise in a nurse. Although LNCC and CLNC are often thought of as interchangeable, even by some nurses, they are not synonymous.

Brace yourself for an onslaught of initials.

The LNCC (Legal Nurse Consultant Certified) is the only credential recognized by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC), formerly known as the ABNS Accreditation Council, which is the only accrediting body specifically for nursing certification.

The LNCC is obtained through the ALNCCB (American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board); see http://www.AALNC.org:

The LNCC® program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC), formerly the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS). ABSNC accreditation means that certification programs have met high standards for testing.

To be eligible to take the examination, candidates must have the following at the time of application:
• current licensure as a registered nurse in the United States or its territories, with a full and unrestricted license
• a minimum of five years of experience practicing as a registered nurse
• Evidence of 2000 hours of legal nurse consulting experience within the past five years.

Those who meet the eligibility criteria and successfully complete the examination will earn the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC®) credential” (and must re-qualify by exam every five years).”

Note there is no mention of a specific “course” even though the AALNC does offer continuing education webinars throughout the year, various online courses, and other educational resources. However, their courses are not a prerequisite for taking the LNCC exam.

The LNCC credential is evidence of knowledge-based practice as well as broader knowledge of legal concepts in a wide range of settings from all medical-legal arenas. LNCC designation measures overall competency.

The CLNC designation is acquired through the Vickie Milazzo Institute; see http://www.legalnurse.com:

“2 Simple Prerequisites for Becoming a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant

1. Complete the Basic CLNC® Certification which is included in all 3 CLNC® Success Systems: VIP, Executive and Basic.
2. Maintain an active RN license in the U.S. or Canada. A BSN degree is NOT required.
Exemptions from meeting any of these criteria will not be granted.

Whichever CLNC® Success System you choose, you’ll receive everything you need to know to get started as a highly paid professional consultant – 100% guaranteed. Our Certified Legal Nurse Consultants are 25 to 75 years old and live all over the U.S. in both rural and urban areas. There’s no limit on succeeding as a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant.”

The CLNC program is six days, either in person or online, and offers supportive mentoring as new LNCs start their business. It provides a wealth of information, teaches new nurses how to initiate and self-promote their new business, obtain sample work products from a highly successful businesswoman/LNC/attorney, and many nurses credit the system with “jump starting” their business.

The CLNC credential is achieved after passing an exam of the materials presented during the six-day course. No experience as an LNC is required, and while the course is accredited for continuing education (as are many others); it is not an accredited certification through ABSNC.

Many CLNC graduates later achieve accreditation as an LNCC after proof of 2000 hours of legal nurse consulting.

There are a number of LNC courses accredited for continuing education, both online and through traditional colleges and universities.

But there is no substitute for experience.

Writing Your First Report

There is no “correct” way to write a consultative report, and so much depends upon what your attorney wants.  What do you think the attorney needs to see?

This is just my personal style. The first thing I write is an introductory paragraph that cites the patient’s name, claimed injury, and brief description of that injury and residual damages. I end it with my opinion, right up front. This may be the last sentence I actually write, but it should be prominent, with any disclaimers.

I might then have a section that lists the supportive evidence. Bullets are great for this. I follow with mitigating information that may work against the claim, probably in paragraph form, to allow your positive bullet points to take center stage.

I also have a bullet list of pre-existing or concomitant conditions that influenced the outcome of the injury. If these conditions are likely to be unfamiliar to the attorney, I will footnote rather than clutter up this section with parenthetical references. If there is a complicated concept I may use a graphic (who wants to describe a foot orthotic or a fundoplication or ICP screw when a simple image says everything). I only use one or at the most two maximize the impact without my report resembling a comic book.

What comes after depends upon the type of report. If I have done a chronology, I do not include all that data into the report – that is why I wrote a chronology. If it is a stand-alone report, I will want more information about the timeline of events and injury, but a chronology is always preferred.

This is where I would address standards of care, if applicable, contributory negligence, and how the case might have resolved but for those issues, whatever they may be.

If I can clearly see the opposing position, I will point that out and offer any counter points.

I end with a list of considerations for the attorney to pursue. This includes the experts that he will need to support his case; specific records to request (always get the ones that predate the event and the most recent since you will rarely have all of either). No matter how strong the evidence, I know that an expert “will be needed to confirm the…” because the attorney cannot base his case upon my opinion. Attorneys will often go forward with a mediation without an expert, and with great success. The decision is theirs.

Elements I like:

• Bullets, as mentioned – using phrases instead of complete sentence structuring allows me to express things succinctly and with more impact

• The use of only one font unless I do something different in a section header • Bolded headers in a larger font, usually in dark gray so that it stands out but isn’t too heavy

• Sentences that are no longer than the ones in this blog • A header beginning on page two that lists “Confidential Attorney Work Product”, with case name under that and the page number under that.

• A complete absence of the use of first person – my opinion is based upon objective evidence, not my feelings

• Absence of emotional input – state the facts clearly and strongly and they will speak for themselves – “this poor dear lady” is just not my style and does nothing to support the case. The attorney will often use that language in his pleading.

• I end with appreciation for the consult, state my availability for further communication, and offer to review further medical records as they arise or fulfill other needs such as expert location

• I sign with “Respectfully Submitted” even if it is an attorney I work with all the time, because it is respectfully submitted

• If I used reference materials for the report, I will cite them.

• I use folders that are hard on the outside (they come in different colors), and have 2 or 3 separators inside, with 2-hole punch on the top. This allows me to organize my work in a logical fashion. I staple my business card to the cover. I include my invoice in a white envelope paper-clipped inside so they do not miss it but it is not the first thing they see.

It is a “process”, and you will find a way that works best for you.

What Your Attorney Needs from You

You should ask this question at the start of each new attorney-client relationship. I am not referring to the attorney’s area of specialization or their orientation towards defense or plaintiff work. I am speaking about their business and personal preferences, their personality, their desires. Despite having your own (no doubt strong) personality, you must adapt yourself to the communication and business style of the attorney.

I have a good rapport with some attorneys who like to share personal information and do not bother to begin and end emails with salutations. They encourage independent thought, brainstorming of theories; we have a mutually respectful and somewhat casual relationship.

There are also very formal attorneys, recognized immediately by their communication style. Respond to them in the same manner they address you. Begin your emails formally, pay close attention to your grammar and do not try to woo them with your witty asides. These attorneys may have a sense of humor but they do not know you well enough to share it.

Most attorneys have a very specific idea of what they need. They may want a detailed chronology and your personal opinion, but they will keep your opinion in-house. They may ask for a second chronology that does not have your name on the report, or your opinion in that optional column. You are their private resource and they need the opinions of experts to be based on clinical facts, not your intuition or experience. Your value is in your invisibility even though/because they are relying heavily upon you.

Some attorneys simply do not know what they want. They may have a case that falls outside their comfort zone. They may ask you how to proceed with experts, and dependently seek input. While this may be flattering, it is the trickiest case to manage because you cannot cross the line between nursing and the law. You are never responsible for their legal decision-making and you certainly don’t want to be responsible for the wrong opinion.

Be comfortable with yourself. Never accept demeaning or verbally abusive behavior even when putting your ego on the back shelf. This is a challenge for most nurses. We are an opinionated bunch and our opinion is what gives us value. Nonetheless, remember that no matter how close your affiliation with an attorney may become, it is first and foremost a business relationship. Their chief goal is to advise and satisfy their client. You will be most helpful if you ask them what kind of report, what kind of information, and what type of presentation they need from you. Then deliver a product that is unequivocal and fact-based, because the one thing all attorneys need is the truth.

Your Attorney Knows this – Do You?

Regardless of which side retains you as a legal nurse consultant, you are working on issues of defense.

The public is perpetually confused about the term “defense” in a lawsuit, but the distinctions are clear. Civil torts encompass personal injury in all its non-criminal forms of malpractice, negligence, product/premises liability and toxic torts, and every area of business disputes. Defense and plaintiff attorneys are mirror images of each other and can reliably predict the opposition’s plan of attack.

In a civil tort, the accused party is represented by defense counsel; the accusing party is the plaintiff.  Resolution for the successful plaintiff involves financial restitution to make the injured party “whole” either through mediation, arbitration or trial. The exception occurs when the case is dismissed in summary judgment by the judge who finds inadequate support for accusations. If dismissed with prejudice, the accusation cannot be brought again; without prejudice allows the claimant to re-file with a different set of facts and accusations.

In a criminal tort, the person who has been accused of a crime is also represented by the defense. The accusing party is the prosecutor who represents not the victim, but the People in crimes against society. Resolution comes in the form of punishment if the accused is found guilty. Society as a whole is the “plaintiff” since the behavior of the accused is a threat to all, not just the intended party.  This distinction leaves the victim free to file a civil tort against the accused whether or not he/she is found guilty of criminal behavior.

In both civil and criminal torts, the need for a defense is predicated upon an accusation. As a plaintiff LNC, you will defend the injured party in civil torts by mounting an offensive that verifies the four “D”s and is bolstered by research and expert testimony. As a defense LNC, you will defend the accused party with an offense of mitigating factors, intervening/superseding proximate causes or outright proof of no wrongdoing.

The Defense Department protects the United States with a proactive offense, as much as the government allows. The old adage that the best defense is a good offense is the application of this basic principle.

It is imperative that legal nurses understand both sides of every case in order to be to be equally comfortable in both worlds and proficient in our nursing roles.

Irrespective of which side engages you as a consultant, you are playing both offense and defense.