Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD


October 02, 2015

In This Article

Advice From Experienced Nurse Attorneys

Here is some advice for nurses from the attorneys quoted earlier:

"Nurses think that they will make so much more money as attorneys," says Lorie Brown. "However, the job market right now is very difficult. I took a pay cut when I first started law and continued to supplement my income with nursing. I also think that so many nurses are becoming legal nurse consultants because they are frustrated with nursing, yet they have no idea if they would even like sitting with mounds of paper, often without human contact. Before somebody goes into law school, I would suggest that they shadow an attorney and make sure that the job is something they truly want to do."

Joanne Hopkins agrees. "I recommend to anyone considering law school to try to work in a law firm or with attorneys before going to school," she said. "It is very different from what we see on TV or in the movies, and there are many unhappy attorneys out there. Many practice areas can be very tedious."

Hopkins further advises, "In seeking jobs, think outside the box. There are many opportunities outside of law firms, especially if the nurse-attorney is interested in health law or related fields. There is risk management, working directly with providers or insurance companies, as well as government positions in which a nursing background will be an asset. In the early years of practice, try to develop an area of expertise. Mine was hospital/medical staff peer review. Take advantage of speaking opportunities, because if you speak on a subject, everyone assumes you are an expert, even if you are not. Write on it, too—same thing. This was invaluable to me both in the law firm setting, but most important when I went out on my own."

"Finally, always give assistance to other lawyers," Hopkins concluded. "I take a lot of calls from other attorneys who are networking or asking for advice. It takes some valuable time, but you never know when you will need to ask for a favor in return."

"I found that law school pushes students toward law firm practice, and it is easy to get wrapped up in the thought that this is the only path," said Taralynn Mackay. "I worked for a large law firm while in my third year and knew I did not want to work for a firm when I graduated. I called a nurse I knew who worked for health lawyers and asked her for advice on a path other than a firm. She recommended working for the state government. I found it to be a great way to get experience as a new attorney.

Mackay also stated, "Networking is very helpful, and do not limit networking to attorneys. You never know when someone may open a door for you. Anyone considering entering law school needs to know that there is an absence of jobs for new law school graduates. The law schools continue to crank out lawyers, but the job market has decreased immensely, and that leaves people with huge debt and no way to pay it back. I know of graduates who still have no job a year after graduating. Also, do not go to law school for riches or fame, because for most attorneys, that does not apply. You should consider a profession or career because it is of interest, or else you may hate getting up every day to go to work."

And an interesting perspective comes from a nurse-attorney who was an attorney first.

Alison Loughran, JD, RN, BSN, who is a program inspector at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General in Baltimore, received her law degree in 1998 while in her 30s—then, in her 40s, went to nursing school. "I saw law school as a place to go, not a dream come true," she said. "I agree that those interested in law school should work with attorneys first to see whether that is what they want to do. I did not work at a law firm and probably would not have lasted a day! The school pushed everyone either into law firms or public interest law. I chose the latter and basically starved while paying student loans. But I did stay with health law in the form of public advocacy and government jobs for many years."

Loughran said, "It was not until my late 40s, while working for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, that I decided to go to nursing school. I thought it would carry me to retirement if I worked part-time as a nurse. The problem: I was not willing to go back to square one in salary, so hospital practice was out, and part-time jobs for new nurses are rare. (I have never been a great career planner!) However, in spite of myself, I found my dream job as hospital/program inspector with the Veterans Affairs. I use my legal and writing skills extensively, and my clinical/nursing practice skills as much as possible. I also learn about many areas of healthcare, not just the nursing elements.

"There are a lot of jobs in this field out there, and I wonder why more nurse-attorneys do not apply," Loughran concluded. "It is very stable and rewarding and a much better work schedule for me (although travel may preclude some from this job). I make enough to have a good life, work only during the week, and meet people from all around the country. I love advocating for veterans. If a nurse wants to go to law school, this career path is a healthy option."

Nursing can be a point of entry to a niche within the legal profession. Those who have made that transition say that they still call upon knowledge and experience from nursing days. They have not really left nursing, but have built upon that experience.


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