Since many attorneys spend a lot of time working with medical records, it is not uncommon for them to hire a nurse paralegal. The nurse paralegal’s job varies from firm to firm, but basically they review and analyze medical records and report to the attorney about what those records say.
What is the Nurse Paralegal Salary?
The nurse paralegal salary depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The hours worked
- Whether the nurse paralegal is employed by an attorney or is an independent consultant
- The area of the country and the overall employment prospects for nurses in that area.
Because the average wages for nurses are higher than the average wages for paralegals, nurse paralegals tend to be on the higher end of the wage scale.
According to the US Government, the median pay for a registered nurse in 2015 was $67,490. The median pay for a paralegal was $48,810.
Attorneys realize that nurses have other career options and pay accordingly; however, they also realize that they are offering a job that involves sitting in an office as opposed to working the floor at a hospital, a job that has regular office hours rather than twelve hour shifts. The nurse paralegal salary takes all those factors into account.
What are nurse paralegal duties?
The nurse paralegal job description is similar to that of other paralegals in that they both support attorneys by reviewing and analyzing records, preparing summaries and chronologies and working with expert witnesses.
However, the nurse paralegal also functions as an in-house expert. With the knowledge and experience gained via her nursing education and experience, the nurse paralegal is able to glean more information from medical records than a non-medical paralegal would be able to, and more than the average attorney can. The nurse paralegal can give an opinion regarding whether malpractice likely occurred. While an employee of an attorney cannot give such an opinion in court, being able to screen cases before hiring experts can keep attorneys from putting time and money into cases that they are not going to win.
Medical malpractice cases are not the only ones where medical causation is an issue. Part of working up any personal injury case from the defense perspective is gathering and reviewing medical records from before and after the subject accident. While most paralegals who work personal injury cases become adept at reading and summarizing medical records, a nurse paralegal has a better idea of what symptoms to look for, what test results mean and generally how to tie the whole case together medically.
Nurse paralegal duties in preparing for depositions
A deposition is a proceeding that takes place during the discovery phase of a case–the time before a case is set for trial during which both sides have to tell the other about their evidence. In a deposition, a witness (party or non-party) is sworn in and questioned by the attorneys in the case in front of a court reporter.
If a case is going to trial, the attorneys will often take the depositions of the treating physician(s). While a nurse paralegal cannot question a witness at a deposition, she can help the attorney prepare by reviewing the medical records, noting things that are favorable or unfavorable for the attorney’s client and helping him prepare questions for the doctor. If the condition in question is not one with which the attorney is familiar, the nurse paralegal’s duties may include educating him about that condition.
Nurse paralegal job description in a medical malpractice case
A good way to look at the nurse paralegal job description is to look at nurse paralegal duties in a typical medical malpractice case.
Generally, when someone thinks a doctor has committed malpractice, he calls an attorney. The attorney will invite the potential plaintiff to meet with him and his nurse paralegal. During the initial interview, the attorney is trying to determine three things:
- Liability: The attorney wants to know whose fault the problem is. Just because the patient died, or didn’t get the desired results does not mean that malpractice was committed. The attorney wants to know what evidence there is that the doctor failed to meet the standard of care expected. The nurse paralegal is knowledgeable about the standard of care in many areas of medicine and is able to add to this initial interview by asking questions to draw out what the patient knows and what he thinks may have happened.
- Damages: For a lawsuit to be economically feasible, it has to cost less to win the case than what can be recovered. Part of the initial interview is determining what harm the plaintiff believes he or she suffered as a result of the alleged malpractice, and again, the nurse paralegal can use her nursing knowledge to take a good patient history and to elicit a good list of symptoms. She can also give the attorney an opinion about whether the alleged malpractice is likely to have caused the symptoms complained of.
- Insurance: If you sue, you need someone to pay the judgment. This isn’t really an area for nurse paralegals.
Following the initial interview, if the case seems worthwhile, the nurse paralegal will send out requests for the patient’s medical records. When she receives them, she will review them. It is often the nurse paralegal’s job to give an initial opinion about whether malpractice was committed and what the damages were. At this point, the attorney may tell the client that their case does not look viable, or he/she may elect to proceed.
In most states, before a medical malpractice case can be filed with the court, it has to be taken to a medical review panel, which is a group doctors who practice in the same specialty as the defendant doctor. It is often one of the nurse paralegal’s duties to prepare the submission to the panel. The submission is a package of medical records along with the plaintiff’s (or on the other side, the defendant’s) side of the story.
If the case does not settle after being presented to the medical review panel, the nurse paralegal may assist with depositions or interface with expert witnesses. If the case goes to trial, she may assist in preparing witnesses and assembling records for trial.
The nurse paralegal as an independent consultant
While the nurse paralegal job description mentioned above implies that the nurse paralegal is an employee of an attorney or law firm, many nurse paralegals are independent contractors or consultants. These nurse paralegal’s duties, like those who are employed by law firms include reviewing, summarizing and reporting on medical records. However, if nursing malpractice is the suspected cause of injury, an independent contractor can testify in court as an expert, whereas an employee cannot.
Nurse paralegal salary for independent consultants
Nurse paralegals who work for themselves as independent consultants generally bill by the hour. Charges start at about $100 per hour and go up from there depending on the level of expertise, the demand for that nurse paralegal and area of the country. Of course that whole $100 (or whatever is billed) has to cover overhead and taxes, not just pay the nurse paralegal. Often those on faculty at schools of nursing will take consulting jobs as a sideline.
Nurses who want to use the knowledge they have about medicine without actually working with patients may find being a nurse paralegal to be a fulfilling job.