Seven Certified Legal Nurse Consultants, Suzanne Arragg, RN, BSN, CDONA/LTC, CLNC; Dale Barnes, RN, MSN, PHN, CLNC; Marcia Bell, RN, BSN, CAPA, CLNC; Dorene Goldstein, RN, BSN, CLNC; Camille Joyner, RN, CCM, CLNC; Jane Hurst, RN, CLNC and Susan Schaab, RN, BSN, CLNC divulge the 19 most common report writing mistakes. Before you submit your next report, thoroughly proof it and review these common pitfalls to assess how you’ve done.
- Using “nurse speak.” Write complete sentences with nouns, verbs, articles and pronouns.
- Flipping between present and past tense. This confuses the narrative.
- Failing to state a conclusion. If you cannot come to a conclusion because of insufficient information, request the information needed to formulate a conclusive opinion.
- Beating around the bush and writing in long paragraphs. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be concise. Read the report aloud to assess for clarity.
- Being inefficient. Dale Barnes says, “I try to do as much of my report writing in one sitting as possible. It becomes less cohesive if I do it incrementally. I also do my research ahead of time, which helps me organizationally and streamlines the process.”
- Providing the attorney with more than the attorney requested. A few extras are nice to throw in, but a more detailed report takes more time and translates into a higher bill for the attorney. The more relevant and cost-effective you are, the more the attorney will involve you in his entire caseload.
- Not providing feedback on the issues the attorney-client wanted addressed and failing to summarize the key points relevant to the attorney’s objectives.
- Not having a plan for the report. Dorene Goldstein states, “Start with a preset idea of your report format. Know what you are trying to convey in the report and see if it works better in a narrative format or a chronological timeline.”
- Not taking a stand. Does the case have merit or not? If you need more information in order to determine merit, say that. Being wishy washy only confuses the attorney and is a waste of time and money.
- Not customizing the report to the attorney-client’s experience and preferences. Always address report preferences with new attorney-clients. Some attorneys only want a narrative report, others prefer a chronological timeline, while others prefer a hybrid of the two. Write to the attorney’s experience.
- Not paying attention to details. Marcia Bell shares, “I was asked in deposition the date I wrote an expert report because I failed to date it. Paying attention to such details when writing a report sets a professional tone.”
- Presenting irrelevant content and opinions. Jane Hurst advises, “Do not go on and on with information that has no bearing on the issues. Getting sidetracked with irrelevant information not only eats up time, it also sidetracks you from the real issues. For example, even though a patient is a frequent flyer in the ED, and has had 15 ED admissions, you don’t want to include detailed information from each ED visit for issues that are unrelated to the case. You can note that the patient was seen x amount of times for xyz, but keep it brief. Always begin the task of writing with a theme and an outline to prevent becoming sidetracked.”
- Not simplifying complex information. You are writing a report for someone without a medical background. Always provide definitions of medical terminology in layman’s terms even for attorney-clients who are medically savvy.
- Skipping the screening process. Susan Schaab states, “After writing hundreds of reports for attorney-clients, it’s easy to believe that you can read the records and immediately start writing a narrative or chronology because you already know how to screen a case. This is a big mistake! The times I’ve skipped using Vickie Milazzo Institute’s screening form I found myself wandering around in rabbit holes. I was not focused on the key issues and wasted a lot of time. Now I always use the screening form to keep me focused and save time before I write the report.”
- Failing to demonstrate your value. If the attorney is sure she already knows what the medical issues are, develop the report to provide the attorney the information requested, but highlight the areas that need deeper analysis and recommend the type of report you will provide. This shows that you were listening, but also teaches the attorney your higher value.
- Failing to discuss a budget with the attorney-client. Susan Schaab shares, “If they are only willing to spend $1,000 then deliver a professional report for that amount, but don’t put in any more time. It is better to be brief and then include recommendations for additional work. The attorney can then decide if he wants more. Remember the attorney is considering a lot of variables, including other cases, and may not be willing to spend more. However, you will have earned the trust necessary to retain him as a client. For example, personal injury (PI) attorneys usually want you to stay within a smaller budget than medical malpractice attorneys. My PI report has a narrative section with some research and analysis followed by a brief chronology. If I have several cases with similar injuries, such as back injury after a MVA, then I am able to use that research for multiple cases.”
- Writing a lengthy report on a nonmeritorious case. Screen the case first. If a case has no merit then this is as far as it goes. Putting in more hours on a nonmeritorious case destroys credibility with your attorney-client. Do not expect to bill a lot of hours on every case.
- Setting unrealistic expectations regarding the amount of time needed to complete your analysis. Susan Schaab states, “When a CLNC® consultant promises a report will only take a few hours, and then spends more hours above that amount, she’s immediately cut her own pay! This also leads the attorney to believe that you can work miracles and they will expect it on all future cases. I always get approval for the budget by recommending a broad range of hours. The low end is what I expect to need and the high end is about ten hours above that. I am then usually able to over deliver by presenting high quality work in less time.”
- Missing a deadline. Meeting deadlines is mandatory to a successful business relationship with attorneys. Missing a deadline can be a fatal mistake. Deadlines are not always convenient, but as CLNC consultant Marcia Bell says, “When I meet a deadline (even an inconvenient one, the attorney remembers me for future cases.”
Special thanks to the CLNC Pros for sharing these 19 common report writing mistakes. These indispensable tips will help you create stellar work product – your best marketing strategy for getting repeat business from attorney-clients.
Success Is Yours,
P.S. Comment and share report writing mistakes you’ve made.