November 18, 2019

Letter from the Chair

By Louraine Arkfeld
 The Commission celebrates 40 years of supporting the legal community in helping vulnerable older adults.

The Commission celebrates 40 years of supporting the legal community in helping vulnerable older adults.

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 2.)

We are pleased to present this special issue of BIFOCAL, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging. I have been honored to chair the Commission for the past two years and can say unequivocally, based on my many years in the profession and involvement with the ABA, that the Commission on Law and Aging is one of the brightest jewels in the ABA’s multi-faceted crown. The Commission’s esteemed reputation is due, in large part, to the professional staff led by Director Charlie Sabatino.  The five members of the legal staff average 23 years of experience at the Commission and 30 career years in the field of law, aging, and disability. Leading the charge has been Assistant Director Erica Wood, whose tenure extends back to the very first meeting of the Commission in 1979.  Erica’s work has touched the professional life of virtually every advocate who has worked in this field over the last four decades. The deeply felt tectonic change in staffing this anniversary year is Erica’s planned retirement at the end of this year. She leaves a huge legacy behind while she continues to pursue aging advocacy in new ways, along with expanding her role as grandmother.

The Commission also owes much of its success over the years to the many leaders both within and outside the legal profession who have served voluntarily and with great distinction as members.  The 15-member Commission, appointed annually by the incoming ABA president, has included not only lawyers with sweeping legal expertise, but national experts in aging from the fields of medicine, social work, nursing, academia, state and federal public administration, associations, advocacy, and more.  We are unique in having this interdisciplinary team and we have been blessed with the tireless volunteer efforts of the best and the brightest from across the country.

This expertise and energy of members and staff will continue to push the envelope of law and aging advocacy as we embark on the next 40 years, but not without new challenges. 

The “silver tsunami” continues and the scope and complexity of issues we face will only grow. This includes health care access and affordability, long-term care, financial security, independent living, aging in place, technology and privacy, housing and the environment, to name a few of the challenges. But no matter what the issue, we at COLA strongly believe – and fight for – the right of every member of society to age with dignity.

The operations of associations like the ABA are also changing dramatically as robust membership is no longer taken for granted.  The many public interest law programs within the ABA, such as this Commission, now shoulder the responsibility of developing business plans that rely far more on grants and generous donations and less on the ABA’s baseline funding.  As a result, readers may already have encountered some of our new initiatives such as the “Friends of the Commission” fundraising effort and the sale of the smartphone app Mind Your Loved Ones, or MYLO for storing and sharing family member’s advance directives and other medical information.  We are confident that these initiatives and your support, along with our core work in policy development, research, training and education, and technical assistance, we will continue to move aging policy and practice toward the highest and the best.

Here is to the next 40 years!

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