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Profile: Nurse Solicitor

Skills gained from nursing are in high demand in the legal profession, which provides many opportunities for nurses looking to retrain

If you take a look at law firms that are prominent in the area of clinical negligence and personal injury, do not be surprised at the number of former nurses among their ranks. Whether working as fully qualified solicitors, or supporting as paralegals, there is undoubtedly a demand for medically qualified personnel within law firms. It might not initially seem like a natural development from nursing, but actually, nurses are ideally placed for a change of career into law.

Firstly, nurses have good communication skills. They have an ability to translate complex terminology and concepts into something that makes sense to someone without medical expertise.

They are also very good with people. The experience of dealing with vulnerabilities and fear can prove invaluable in a complex litigation case. They are skilled at listening and adapting their approach, depending on the type of client they are dealing with. 

These are skills which are important in large areas of law, not just those based around medical issues. Family law, contested probate and indeed criminal law can all be complex and emotional areas where people skills are essential.

Thirdly, and more specifically, nurses have a level of technical expertise which is invaluable particularly in clinical negligence or personal injury. They can understand the medical records and translate them. They can explain the complex medical evidence which is obtained, and they can differentiate between those issues which are simply not relevant to the legal claim but may still be of importance to the client. 

The ability to understand the terminology and events should not be underestimated. 

Most clients are delighted to have someone who can explain the medical records, understanding the issues at the outset. 

It gives clients a security, knowing their lawyer knows not only the legal process but also the medical history. This level of knowledge can prove extremely comforting to a client at a time when they maybe feeling anxious about the situation they find themselves in.

Most nurses will qualify via a conversion course, either full or part time. This provides a postgraduate diploma looking at all the main areas of law. 

It is hard work trying to fit in the equivalent of a degree into a much shorter time but it is essential to have a full understanding of all areas of law, not just the one specific area that somebody may have decided they wish to study and practice in. 

From there, nurses go onto a legal practice course which all solicitors are required to complete, and on to a training contract. 

In short, once the conversion course is completed, the process is identical to a student with a law degree. 

There are other mechanisms to working in law. Legal executive exams can be done part-time over several years, although there can be fewer employment prospects on this path. 

Some nurses may choose to work as paralegals, not completing legal training but working in a supportive role. 

In most cases however, they will re qualify as a solicitor (or barrister) moving into areas where their expertise is particularly welcomed. 

Nurses wishing to retrain should follow four main steps when considering retraining for a legal role, summarised in the box opposite.

Ali Malsher (pictured) is one such nurse, who now works for a London-based legal firm.


Case study: Ali Malsher, Partner at Anthony Gold solicitors

After leaving school, Ali Malsher hadn't even intended to be a nurse, let alone retrain as a nurse solicitor.

 “I started life aiming to be a sociologist. I studied for my sociology degree in Essex and New York. 

“I then went on to do a postgraduate qualification in nursing at St George's Hospital in Tooting, South London; one of only two hospitals to offer this at the time. 

“I qualified and worked in the cardiac surgery unit there, followed by emergency admissions. I have spent most of my time post qualification dealing with trauma and emergency nursing-type work. 

Ali enjoyed the drama and human interaction that came with working as a nurse.

“The most notable and memorable point of my nursing career would have to be on 12 December 1988 when, as the nearest major hospital to the scene, we dealt with the Clapham train crash where 35 people died and 500 people were injured. 

“Our main emergency department staff dealing with all of this were quite fabulous. I dealt with a man with significant fractures and spinal injuries; life-changing injuries. It's the kind of day you never forget.”

Yet as life started to take her in a different direction, so did her career aspirations.

“A few years later I went traveling in South East Asia and Australasia, working as a nurse in the outback. It was just me and the spiders in the house. 

“It was 45°C on a cool day, which is not good for a pale blonde person. 

“After more travels, nursing work in Sydney and a succession of odd jobs, of which car washing was a low point, I returned home to the UK when my funds finally ran out in Bombay (now Mumbai).”

It was a chance appointment on her return from her travels, at a medical negligence charity, which really cemented her decision to retrain and work in the legal field.

“Returning home I had a spell of varied agency nursing. I did this in all sorts of places: renal units, oncology, ear, nose and throat (ENT), surgery and cardiac. 

“Then a few months later I started working for Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), the medical negligence legal charity. I worked there for three years, doing my MA in the evenings. 

“My role at AvMA was to assess cases for transfer to solicitors and to assist clients as cases progressed. At the time there were very few lawyers dealing with this kind of work, and little support for patients and their families. 

“I became interested during this time in how the law works and what could be done to assist patients and their families. As a result of my time there I decided I would re qualify as a lawyer, perhaps doing part time study.

“I had started my own business dealing with medical records and issues for solicitors in clinical negligence, doing some nursing at the same time. 

However, juggling studying with a nursing job proved stressful.

“The medical records work was fine but the nursing was hard. I found that my feet were worn out with the walking around the wards. I had forgotten how physically tiring it was.

“Ultimately I decided to re-qualify in one go. I completed the Common Professional Examination (CPE), a one-year transitional course to law, and then did my diploma in legal practice again full time. I also carried on with the medical consultancy which had taken off somewhat. I even worked as an expert witness giving evidence at trial. 

“I have the advantage of being able to tell clients I have been in the witness box. After a training contract with a Deptford law firm, I transferred to a central London firm and then to Anthony Gold in 2000, first as an associate, then as a partner.”

Ali has no regrets about her change of career and enjoys being able to combine her skills gained from both her nursing and legal training.

“I obviously really enjoy legal work and the area in which I work (clinical negligence) makes use of my other qualification and skills. But there are things I miss about nursing. I loved the people, the hospital environments and the staff who had great senses of humour. 

“I loved the fact that each day was very different and because I dealt with trauma/emergency type work, there was always some crisis to deal with. My record was six cardiac arrests during one night shift at Barnet cardiac unit. I am not sure my feet could deal with it now.

Skills gained from nursing are in high demand in the legal profession, which provides many opportunities for nurses looking to retrainWhat would Ali say was the main thing she has taken from nursing in her new role? 

“Overall I am much happier to be doing what I do. I have to say however that training to be a nurse was one of the best things I have done. It has been of enormous assistance personally at times and it is the basis on which I can deal with cases. 

“It also significantly improved my ability to deal with people, and I have found it to be of huge reassurance to clients that I understand what they are talking about and know what has happened to them.”