Allegheny County Young Lawyers Serve the Elderly with the “Very Important Papers Project”
Jason T. Vail is an associate editor of The Affiliate and a Staff Attorney/Legal Editor at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, Illinois.
Today’s young lawyers representing individual clients may see that their customer base is becoming increasingly older, as reflected in demographic changes in the population at large. According to the Administration on Aging, in 2006 (the latest year for which data are available), 37.3 million Americans were 65 years old or older, representing 12.6 percent of the U.S. population—more than one in every eight Americans. And by 2030, now that the baby boomers are starting to turn 65, the number is expected to increase to 71.5 million, which is over 20 percent of the total population. This ever-increasing population has specialized legal needs, and many—particularly low-income seniors—may not know where to turn for legal help. One organization, Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, is addressing this need with its “Very Important Papers Project” (VIP).
The concept behind VIP is simple: young lawyers go out into their communities and make presentations to seniors where they live or gather and advise them on legal topics of interest to older adults. The VIP presentations fall into one of two categories. The first is “family matters,” which include discussion of wills, powers of attorney, living wills, probate, intestacy, and the importance of organizing and preserving certain documents. The second type of presentation covers financial abuse of the elderly, encompassing creditors’ rights, fraudulent practices, how to identify scams, how to distinguish between a fraudulent scheme and a legitimate offer, and up-to-date information from the Attorney General’s office about the latest scams targeted at older adults. For either type of presentation, booklets prepared by the Allegheny County Bar Association are provided to attendees.
VIP was started in 1990 in Allegheny County by Carol Sikov Gross, who is now a partner at Sikov and Love, P.A, and a certified elder law attorney. The outgoing coordinator of the project is Allegheny attorney Hillary N. Snyder. Today the project holds about fifty presentations each year at senior citizen high-rises, libraries, YMCAs, hospitals, and other facilities, as well as at senior citizen organizations such as AARP. The program is free to senior citizens and their caregivers as well as to senior-citizen-oriented agencies or groups and is presented by young lawyer volunteers who discuss the topics and answer questions asked by the audience. The volunteer attorneys do not provide legal services or representation to the attendees; seniors in need of further legal help are directed to local resources like Neighborhood Legal Services or the county bar.
A project similar to VIP can be easily replicated by young lawyer affiliate organizations anywhere in the country. The benefits of programs like VIP to your bar association’s members are numerous. The obvious benefit is providing a much needed public service to the elderly and aging community. A secondary benefit, which directly affects your members, is that the program allows young lawyers to hone their public speaking skills and ability to clearly and concisely convey legal information. In addition, young lawyers are provided the opportunity to become educated on matters affecting seniors, which in light of the aging client population is important for all attorneys’ professional development.
For more information on the project or how to start a “Very Important Papers Project” in your affiliate, please contact Hillary Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org
. To see a sample schedule of VIP presentations, visit www.acba.org/ACBA/pdf/vip_schedule.pdf
. The Allegheny County Bar Association has created a short video highlighting the project, which is available at www.acba.org/ACBA/media/acba_seniors.wmv
. Finally, more information may be obtained from the Allegheny County Bar Association at 412/261-6161.