Nurse Attorney

Lorie Brown graduated from Indiana University School of Nursing with a BSN in 1982. Soon after, she obtained a Master’s Degree from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Nursing. After practicing for 12 years, she attended Indiana University School of law and obtained her J.D. in 1990. Since then, Lorie has worked with the Department of Insurance, defending the Patient’s Compensation Fund and defending physicians and hospitals in medical malpractice cases. Currently, Lorie works as a legal nurse consultant and represents nurses before the licensing board.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How long have you been a legal nurse and what was prior to that?

Sure. I’ve been a registered nurse since 1982. I actively practice for 12 years. I have a Master’s degree as a clinical nurse specialist and nursing administration – it’s a double Master’s. Then I went to law school. I never planned on becoming an attorney but I got divorced and had a good divorce attorney and thought, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ I’ve been an attorney since December of 1990, so for 22 years. I love it.

Which came first, the attorney or the nurse in you? How did these two professions combine to create your current career?

The nurse came first. I became a nurse first and then went on to law school. People ask me why I went into law and I always joke that as a nurse the doctors told me what to do but as an attorney I got to tell them what to do. I absolutely love it. When a client comes to you, they don’t have a sign on their head that says ‘torte’ or ‘contract.’ You have to do the same nursing process in law; you have to assess, plan, intervene and evaluate. So a client comes in and it’s just like a patient you see in a hospital. They don’t have a sign on their head that says surgical abdomen or hypertension…whatever it is, you have to asses, plan, intervene and evaluate so it’s the same process.

What kinds of things do you typically encounter as you go about your work day?

I get called a couple of times a day because nurses don’t understand the Nurse Practice Act and the legal issues involved in nursing and I get to explain to them how the process works. So, I would like to see the nursing schools do a little bit better job in educating the nurses on the laws that affect their license because ignorance is not bliss. They have to know those laws and comply with them. I also spend a fair amount of my day reviewing medical records and looking at documentation issues for nurses to see if there are any breaches in the standard of care in both the medical care and the nursing care. It seems our world is going so fast that we have more to do in less time, both from a physician and nursing perspective and because we’re so worried about the next thing, we’re not as conscious of what is going on at the present moment and mistakes are made.

What challenges do you face when representing nurses before the licensing board?

I think my biggest challenge is that the licensing board’s sole purpose is to protect the public and even though they’re nurses, their job is to protect the public and not the nurse. You’d think going before a nursing board which is of the same specialty that you are, that you’d want to protect each other and help each other but unfortunately that’s not the case. There are competing interests. My job is to protect the nurse and show that she’s safe to practice before the board and the board’s job is to make sure the public is safe.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

I love working with the nurses. I love working with the attorneys that give me records to review. Really, I just love my job. I feel like I have the best job in the world. I have an office attached to my house and I’m able to create the lifestyle that I want because of that. I have freedom and can come and go as I please and I also have the ability to create the kind of practice that brings me the most joy. I truly wish that nurses would not have to appear before the board and would know what they need to do to prevent problems and I’ve chosen to educate nurses on that so they don’t need to go before the board. It’s a very scary process and I feel for them. So, I’m on a mission to educate as many nurses as I can about how to protect themselves.

If you were to speak to someone thinking of going into your industry, what unique challenges would you warn them about? What advice would you give them to overcome those challenges?

I think the law is saturated. You would think that being a nurse as well as being an attorney that you’d be able to find a job but that is not the case. You start at the bottom just like any attorney. I think sometimes attorneys don’t recognize the value of having that nursing background but I think it’s becoming more and more prevalent. When I started in 1994, I undertook the task of forming the Indiana Chapter of American Association for Nurse Attorneys and at that time there were only 65 nurse attorneys in the state. It seems like it’s getting more and more prevalent and that more nurses are graduating.  There is at least one in every graduating class so there are more and more of us.

I’d also say take whatever job you can get and get the experience in the law because that will help you to develop the practice that you want. You’ve got to get that experience first and start at the beginning. I took a job at the state for the Indiana Department of Insurance as my first job and I did take a big pay cut from nursing and continued to work as a nurse on the side in home health care.

To pursue a career as a legal nurse, what kind of experience and qualifications are best to have?

To pursue a career as a legal nurse consultant rather than a nurse attorney, you definitely need to have a lot of experience under your belt because you will be given a variety of cases in all kinds of areas and you’ll really have to have some basic knowledge about care and treatment in those areas…or at least know how to find that information. There are several programs that offer legal nurse consulting certification. I suggest you do your homework. There are a wide variety of costs and timeframes to do that job.

Shadow someone for a day or two and see if you like the work. As nurses, we’re busy on the floor taking care of patients. It’s fast-paced and an active type of environment whereas legal nurse consultants…you’re sitting alone knee deep in records. So if you like people and you don’t like to sit and read records all day, this probably wouldn’t be for you. If you would like to pursue a career as a nurse attorney, I suggest that you, again, have experience under your belt that will make you a better nurse attorney and more marketable because, again, you get a wide variety of cases and situations in which if you had that nursing experience and background it would be better and easier for you to evaluate.

Do you have any advice for someone who might want to pursue this career?

Just like in nursing, the types of environments in which you can work are endless. The same is true in law. There are so many different fields in law that you can pursue, so again, I suggest shadowing people and seeing what you like and in terms of whether you’re a legal nurse or want to go into law, don’t be afraid to talk to other attorneys because you’re going to get the most information from them and that’s how you’ll need to market your business.