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Has Another Degree Helped Your Practice?

by Carolyn Elefant on October 3, 2005 · 2 comments

in Gaining Competence, Ideas & Tips

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Most of us have read about folks from other professions, ranging from school teacher to police officer to doctor, who’ve gone to law school and started practicing law.  But this article, Bridging the Legal gap for Nurses (10/2/05) got me to thinking about whether this path can work in reverse, i.e., would it make sense for a lawyer to get a degree in nursing or accounting or computer science to help build an existing practice?

The article just mentioned discusses a profession called “certified legal nurse consultant.”  According to the article, a certified legal nurse consultant is a nurse who uses existing expertise as a health care professional plus specialized training to consult on medical cases.  I’m wondering whether an attorney who obtains a nursing degree might be an equally effective or desireable nurse consultant as a nurse who obtains some legal training.

The reason why the nurse example stuck out to me in general is that one
of my sisters, who’d originally gotten a masters in social work and
worked as a licensed social worker (LSW) went back to school at night
to get her nursing degree.  She was able to continue working full time
while she got the degree, it just wasn’t as demanding as getting a law
school or medical school degree.  Thereafter, she worked as a floor
nurse for a year at a hospital but wound up in the pharmeceutical
industry.  There are probably other degrees which would make good “add
ons” as well:  accounting, computer science or perhaps a science degree
come to mind.  Has anyone out there ever gone this route – and what
were the results?

  • Anonymous

    One of my friends had a law degree and practiced criminal law for a couple of years and then decided to go back and get an engineering degree. Although, not a solo, he has successfully transitioned into a patent law practice where he is very marketable. I would be interested in hearing other stories.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Carolyn,
    This is a fabulous site chalk full of great information for anyone considering a solo or small firm practice.
    I am currently at a big law firm where I practice intellectual property law. Because of my in depth background in technology and a technical degree, I am very marketable in this field of law and have always had a choice of top notch opportunities.
    However, I am not very excited about intellectual property and would like to transition into the healthcare field. I also want to start my own practice but at this time I am not sure what would be the best way to go about doing this in a field where I have no experience. I have been practicing for about five years now and have broad experience in both litigation and transactional matters related to intellectual property but none in any other area of law. Also, I have a huge mortgage so I cannot afford to take much of a pay cut or be without income for too long.
    Because of my financial constraints, I am considering trying to build expertise in healthcare while at a firm (my firm has none) and also develop a reputation in this new area. I would also like to begin client development in the healthcare field while at a firm and am planning on using my own funds for conferences, bar activities in this area, etc. Do you have any thoughts on this approach? One option is to stay at my current firm and do this. To my knowledge my firm does not have a practice in the healthcare field nor are they contemplating entering this area of law. Another option is to go to a firm that has a healthcare practice but this would mean taking a huge (>50%) pay cut, still working for someone else and may pose conflict issues later on. And the third option is to dive in with both feet and start my own practice in this new field but I suspect that it will take me some time to develop the expertise and a client base that will generate revenue.
    I would like to hear any feedback on this. I would also love to hear from anyone regarding transitioning into the healthcare area.

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