(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 2.)
ABA President William B. Spann determined to add the concerns of senior citizens to the association’s roster of public service priorities, the Washington office was a fertile garden for new initiatives of this kind.
The ABA’s Public Services Division had recently moved its location from Chicago to Washington and there was a real enthusiasm for exciting and diverse programs of this kind. Moreover, success with operating formats, such as specially focused bar committees and interdisciplinary “commissions,” coupled with opportunities for public and charitable funding to expand such endeavors, had opened a world of new possibilities.
Through these units, the ABA was increasingly able to study a variety of issues, marry formidable volunteer leadership to talented staff specialists, and then formulate responses ranging from policy positions to study reports, clearinghouse functions, demonstration projects, working conferences, and collaborative advocacy.
President Spann proceeded by designating a special task force to examine the status of the legal problems and needs confronting our elderly population, to determine whether, indeed, the ABA could play a constructive role, and to suggest what structure and broad priorities for an association program seemed most promising. With the nation’s elderly citizens steadily moving toward 15 percent of the total population and increasingly severe strains on their economic and social status being imposed by inflation, bureaucracy, resource scarcity, and benefit program squeezes, this appeared to be a pressing area for public service attention.
The task force reported out in mid-1978, affirming the value of an ABA initiative and suggesting that this might be best implemented through an interdisciplinary commission. It identified four priority areas that seemed worthy of attention—provision of legal services to the elderly, discrimination against the elderly, simplification and coordination of administrative procedure and regulation, and rights of persons subject to institutionalization or subsidized care.
The task force also reviewed prior work relating to older persons within other units of the ABA, urging that this be continued, that duplication be avoided, and cooperation fostered. Where feasible, the Commission was to mobilize and stimulate the talents and contributions of other ABA entities undertaking work in the field rather than replace them.
The task force report was favorably received and at the ABA’s 1978 annual meeting, the establishment of a new interdisciplinary Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly was authorized by the ABA governing bodies. Appointments to the Commission were made in late 1978 and its first meeting was held in February 1979. This initiative brought together an outstanding group of practicing attorneys, legal educators, specialists in aging, and nonlawyer experts on problems of the elderly, including key federal officials, national organization leaders, and two former secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.