Aug. 20, 2014 – Jen, a long-time sole practitioner with a focus on elder law, decides she needs to add an associate. One applicant is Ethan, a recent law school graduate. Jen tells Ethan that the most important qualifications for the position are the willingness to relate well to people of all ages and the ability to deal with whatever problems they bring through the door. Ethan is intrigued by the possibility of being a generalist but also confused: “Why do you have to deal with all sorts of problems and people of all ages? I thought you were an elder law attorney!”
Jen’s response: “Welcome to elder law in the 21st century.”
At the end of the interview, Ethan says, “Jen, I still have my doubts. I thought elder law attorneys mainly write wills and trusts and maybe the occasional living will.” Jen pulls down volume 1 of her well-worn copy of State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE’s Advising Older Clients and Their Families and opens it to chapter 1, titled “Overview of Elder Law Practice.” “Here,” she says. “In the sections on demographics, you can read about the large and growing number of older people in Wisconsin and what this means for lawyers. Why don’t you take the book with you and read it over. Then come back tomorrow. And be sure to bring back the book – I rely on it.”
Ethan returns the next day, and hands back the book. “OK, OK, I get that elder law is a burgeoning area. But it seems really complicated, too. Like so many chances to mess up and violate a rule of ethics.” Jen replies, “I’m glad you noticed that. Assessing clients’ mental capacity and avoiding conflicts of interest are especially significant when working with older people. They often come to consultations with family members, and it can be hard to tell how competent the client is or even who the client is. Especially if a son or daughter does the talking for Mom or Dad.” She opens the book to chapter 2. “That’s when Advising Older Clients comes in handy. Its tips help you feel more confident about how to interview older clients.”
“But does working mostly with older people actually expose you to a variety of areas of law? And if it does, how do you figure out how to help them?”
“It sure does involve a lot of law,” Jen replies, “and that’s when I’m glad I own Advising Older Clients. For example, a woman came in asking me to put together a will for her. I asked about her employment, and she told me that she likes her job but is concerned about the possibility of lay-offs, especially because she’s one of the company’s oldest employees. I explained the basics of age discrimination law to her and suggested that we also talk about retirement financing, both her employer-sponsored plan and Social Security. I didn’t learn anything about those topics in law school but they come up all the time in my practice, so I’ve bookmarked lots of pages in chapters 7 and 8.”
“And sometimes,” Jen continues, “they ask about things are not technically law issues. I can’t do everything for my clients. But I can assess their circumstances, help with their law-related needs, and direct them to other organizations for help with non-law-related issues. That’s another thing Advising Older Clients helps with – in chapter 3, it lists dozens of online and community organizations and resources, describes Wisconsin’s governmental programs, and helps me help my clients navigate the system. So, would you like the job?”
“Yes, but only if you promise to give me my own copy of Advising Older Clients and Their Families.”
Whether, like Ethan, you’re new to the field of elder law or, like Jen, you have years of experience, you’ll benefit by having the two volumes of Advising Older Clients and Their Families on your shelf or your computers. Volume I, supplemented in June, covers the topics above plus grandparents’ rights, housing, and Social Security disability insurance. Volume II, being revised in 2014–15, contains, among others, chapters on Medicare, Medicaid (including divestment and estate recovery), estate and end-of-life decision-making planning, and long-term care facilities.
The Advising Older Clients and Their Families two-volume set is available in print to members for $329 plus tax and shipping, or $219 plus tax and shipping for a single volume. Subscribers to the State Bar’s automatic supplementation service will receive future updates at a discount off the update price. Annual subscriptions to Books UnBound start at $249 for the two-volume set or $149 for a single volume (single-user prices; call for library and firm pricing). To order the Advising Older Client and Their Families or for more information, contact the State Bar at (800) 728-7788 or visit Marketplace.