November 01, 2015

GP Mentor: When Does Serving Older Clients Become Elder Law?

Charles P. Sabatino

My first job as a freshly minted lawyer was in a senior citizens’ law project of a legal aid program. I really had no background in law and aging, but I was naive enough to take on anything. Initially, most of my cases involved public benefit appeals, debt collection defense, and simple wills. The term “elder law” didn’t even exist then, and I no idea that law and aging would become such a focus of my career. But I was deeply moved by the life stories and challenges faced by my clients. After six years I left the legal aid program to do a grant-funded sabbatical of sorts with the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. It was a chance to do some policy research and writing. Thirty years later, my sabbatical has turned into a long-term learning experience in advocacy for older persons, and I am still with the Commission on Law and Aging. At the same time, the field of law and aging has become a real practice focus, though how the practice is defined depends on who you talk to.

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