I just spoke with a nurse that had hired a lawyer from her hometown to represent her before the Board. The attorney had never been before the Board, but assured the nurse that her that "it could not be too hard" and that he would have no problem. The disciplinary sanctions the nurse agreed to based on the advice of the attorney were not in line with what the incident warranted. It was obvious that the attorney did not understand what information must be presented to the Board. The attorney told the nurse to sign the Order (agreeing to the disciplinary sanctions)and that they could negotiate the terms afterwards. This was bad advice because it is difficult to modify an Order once it has been agreed upon. The nurse also stated that it was difficult to speak to the attorney and that when she did speak to him it was as though he did not remember her.
The nurse was distraught and asked how was she supposed to know the difference in attorneys. I explained that attorneys can specialize much in the same manner as doctors. While obtaining a law license enables a person to practice in any area, most attorneys focus on one or just a few specialties in order to gain expertise. Each area of law has constant changes due to case law, new rules, new regulations, new policies and new statutes being put in place, so attorneys must maintain their education. If an attorney focuses on too many areas of law, it becomes difficult to stay current in all of the areas.
Administrative law has another level of specialty in that lawyers also need to know the various state agencies, their procedures and their staff. Inexperienced lawyers frequently underestimate the importance of this knowledge. So, how does a nurse determine whether a lawyer is experienced? Look at the attorney's background. Look for a lawyer that is focused on the Board of Nursing. Ask what other areas of law they practice. Ask if they are Board Certified in Administrative Law. Go to the State Bar website and look up information about when they graduated and what area they indicate as their area of practice. Ask how many years they have been representing nurses before the Board.
Another area of distress for the nurse that I spoke with. She asked what I charged to represent nurses before the Board and she said that she paid $1500.00 more for the attorney she chose. Be an informed consumer and check out your attorney's credentials and chose wisely.