chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
January 12, 2023

The Future of Law and Aging

David Godfrey, JD

The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 44 Issue 3.

Happy New Year! Welcome to the Future of Aging  

The mission of the American Bar Association is to serve equally our members, our profession, and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession. The Commission on Law and Aging, as a part of the ABA is committed to protecting the legal and human rights of adults as we age, by developing resources, delivering training, and promoting policy.  I once asked a wise man to define aging. He said, “if you have been born and you are not dead, you are aging.” Aging is a part of who we are. We work at the intersection of law and aging.  We examine the legal challenges to protecting the rights of adults. This includes programs and services that are triggered by chronological age, and also the human and legal rights that are impacted by ageism and ableism.

Over the near quarter century that I have been working exclusively in this field, much has changed. Slowly we are shifting from a vision of aging as a negative experience, to a meaningful part of the spectrum of life experiences.  An exhibit at the Pompidou Center in Malaga Spain describes retirement age as an opportunity “to take time – to rest, to look after oneself or to improve one’s mind.”  The great tragedy of age is not getting old, it is that far too many deny, or are denied the experience.  The Commission on Law and Aging needs to be on the front line against ageism and ableism.  

The Commission on Law and Aging met in December to update the mission and vision for the Commission’s work.  It had been over ten years since we had last spent time thinking about and describing why we do what we do, and what the world will be like when our mission is achieved. Over the past ten years the language of aging has evolved, with a strong push back against ageism and ableism. Our understanding of decision making, and decision supports have evolved in very positive ways. Programs and services have changed and continue to evolve.  The science and medicine of aging are developing at a rapid rate.  The role of the Commission on Law and Aging within the American Bar Association has changed from being a missionary project, to a largely self-supporting research, resource and training group that supports professionals in law and aging.  

The outcome of our introspection is: 

The mission of the Commission on Law and Aging is to educate and advocate to protect the rights and dignity of adults as they age. 

The vision of the ABA Commissioon on Law and Aging is a society where the rights of every adult are respected and protected.

This process will move forward over the next year, with the creation of a new strategic plan for the Commission on Law and Aging, that will set goals to guide our work. The future is bright.


This issue of BIFOCAL features several articles written by students.  The Commission on Law and Aging has a long history of hosting student interns.  The students help us with essential research, the tedious process of updating our 50 state surveys of state laws on selected topics that serve as a resource for so many professionals across the country.  Students also research topics we have not worked on or are peripheral to our work.  The passion of today’s students gives me great hope for the future of the field.  Our primary goal in hosting students is to mentor the next generation of advocates and scholars in this field.  If you know of a college or law student who is interested in an internship, have them reach out to us.  

New Colleague 

Beth Russo is joining the Commission on Law and Aging as a senior attorney this month.  Beth has over 20 years of experience, with over ten years of that in guardianship of adults in the state of Alaska. Her family relocated to the Washington, DC area recently.  We welcome her and will rapidly integrate her into our ongoing work.  

Be a Part of the ABA

ABA membership has never been more affordable. For the majority of attorneys working in public interest, solo and small firms, membership is just $150 a year. The membership dues are important to fund the core work of the ABA, and the membership numbers increase our collective voice when the ABA speaks out on important issues. Membership returns value to our members, with the free Member Value CLE programs, discounts on programs, publications and discounts from many vendors and service providers (the discount on a new Mercedes would pay your membership dues for a few years.) 

Connect with the Commission on Law and Aging

The Commission on Law and Aging has two primary tools for communicating with you.  BIFOCAL goes out to a little over 2,000 subscribers, free of charge. Subscribers to BIFOCAL receive less than 10 emails a year (the six issues and very rarely a request or update between issues of BIFICAL.)   We also host an old-fashioned email discussion list for professionals in law and aging, Elderbar, that has about 1,100 subscribers.  Elderbar is a bit more active with about 20 messages a month.  If you are interested in subscribing to either, email us at [email protected]. Offering these without charge to members and non-members is made possible in part by our individual donors.  Please support our work. 

ABA Policy and Mid-Year Meeting

The ABA House of Delegates is expected in early February to consider ABA policy based on the Commission on Law and Aging research concluded last year into the experience of persons living with dementia and the criminal justice system.  Approval of the policy would empower the ABA to take a strong position on critical issues in delivering justice for all, including persons living with dementia.  The ABA Mid-Year meeting is in New Orleans, February 1-6, 2023. The core meeting is free of charge for all who register. It is a great opportunity to experience what the ABA stands for.   

2023 and Beyond 

We are optimistic for 2023 and the future. Conferences, meetings, and trainings are starting to return in person, and we are looking forward to seeing many of you in person. Our contacts at the state level tell us it should be an active legislative season on issues in guardianship reform and adult abuse legislation.  A new Congress will settle in and search for common ground – we are optimistic that protecting human, legal, and due process rights of adults and eliminating ageism and ableism are core values that many can agree with.  

David Godfrey, JD

Director ABA Commission on Law and Aging