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November 16, 2021

Post NALC Report

by David Godfrey, Senior Attorney, Commission on Law and Aging

The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 43 Issue 2.

The 2021 Virtual National Aging and Law Conference (NALC) took place October 6, 7, and 8th, and attracted about 320 participants from 42 states. This was the Commission on Law and Aging’s 8th year of hosting NALC, continuing a tradition that goes back over 30 years of interdisciplinary conferences on law and aging.  

NALC was scheduled over three afternoons this year, allowing a little later start to make it easier on the west coast, in Alaska and Hawaii. The three-afternoon schedule also allowed more opportunities for networking, small group meetings and information sessions.   

Planning for NALC began early in 2021, with the decision to move from in-person to virtual.  The decision was made based on everything we knew at that time, and on our ability to give reasonable notice to the hotel and exit the hotel contract without penalty.

The key topics for NALC were developed in consultation with several key advisors.

We led off with housing and home and community-based services.  This was based on two concerns, we have had little coverage of affordable or income-based housing in recent years, and without a home the promise of home and community-based services is an illusion. 

We wanted to cover the basics and hot topics on Medicare and Medicaid and do it in a way that reflects the most common issues of coverage and eligibility that are experienced in a lawyer’s office. The conference planners drafted a fact pattern and asked a panel of experts from Justice in Aging and the Center for Medicare Advocacy to walk the audience through a typical family’s journey.

The events of 2020, and early 2021, had heightened our awareness that we were not doing enough, on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; there is still work to be done. We created the session on Intentional Approaches to Serving Clients with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Mind to further this effort. Denny Chan, Directing Attorney for Equity Advocacy at Justice in Aging, and William Rivera of AARP Foundation Litigation were given carte blanche to create a program talking about the leadership of their organizations on this critically important topic.   

The Fourth National Guardianship Summit held in early May of 2021, produced 22 recommendations for changes in law, policy and practice, including a groundbreaking recommendation that states repeal the option of a plenary guardianship. The session from Vision to Reality: Implementing the Recommendations of the Forth National Guardianship Summit, came to us as a readily prepared program, an expanded version of a program presented for Federal advocates a few weeks earlier. 

The Lightning Round was changed this year to allow five keynote speakers in one two-hour session. This was a change from having 10 speakers with five minutes each, with a short opening and closing. The change in format allowed NALC to welcome five amazing keynote level speakers. The session was led off by Alison Barkoff, the acting administrator of ACL and assistant cabinet secretary for aging. She was followed by the President of the ABA, Reginald Turner who connected the work of the ABA, to the interests of the audience. Catheryn Koss spoke on behalf of the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging, a long-time financial sponsor of NALC, about the research and fellowship work made possible by Borchard. The Chair of the Commission on Law and Aging, Robyn Shapiro spoke about the Commission and about her work on the intersection of law and medical ethics in health care decision making. The session was closed out by a rousing presentation by Rawle Andrews, the new CEO of the American Psychiatric Association, after 15 years with AARP, about critical issues of reforming or replacing guardianship, the challenges of dementia in our aging society and the overlap of mental health and aging.   

The closing session covered the ethical challenges in guardianship cases. Little did we know when we planned this back in January, that #FreeBigNameCelebrity would be headline news across the country. The session focused on the role of lawyers in guardianship cases, and the most common ethical mistakes that lawyers make when representing clients with diminished capacity.

The conference was made possible in large part by financial support from a group of long-term financial sponsors, the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging, the AARP Foundation, and Camilla McRory attorney at law, who joined us as a Commissioner on the Commission on Law and Aging this year.  The ABA Section of Real Property Probate Trust and Estate Law also provided financial support for NALC and other Commission on Law and Aging programing this year. Nearly half of the program budget is provided by these sponsors, and we truly can’t thank them enough. Without them, we would not be able to keep the program affordable for many.

All sessions were recorded and will be available with Continuing Education Credits in states that allow that. For the first six-months the recordings are available without charge to anyone who registered for the program.  All registered attendees will receive links to the recording (if you don’t receive them, call the ABA Service Center at 800- 285-2221, and ask them to resend the links.) People who didn’t register can purchase the recordings on a pay-per-view basis for the first six months. But, a better idea, after six months the recordings become part of the ABA Member Benefit CLE library, available without charge to ABA Members. Rather than buy the recording on a pay-per-view basis, join the ABA and by May of 2022, you can watch them all, along with about 600 other archived programs as a benefit of membership.  For legal aid, government, non-profit, solos, and academic attorneys ABA membership is $150 a year or less.

Our plan is for there to be a 2022 National Aging and Law Conference, but at this point we don’t have dates, or a decision on in-person or virtual.  At this time there is still too much uncertainty and concerns about safety to enter into a biding hotel contract.  A final decision will be made by the first quarter of 2022. We will update in BIFOCAL, on our website, and our social media feeds as decisions are made.