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January 19, 2024

Director's Column

David Godfrey and Erica Costello
The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 44; Issue 3.

David: Here in my last Director Column, I am going to make a few observations about the status of law and aging, as I hand this off to Erica Costello to outline her plans for the Commission. 

  • We will be more successful if we invite other advocates to the table, to consider all points of view and look for common ground.  There is a deep overlap in issues and concerns among advocates working on disability rights, mental health, mental illness, and aging, we need to spend more time listening to one another and focusing on the common ground and supporting one another on the issues that are unique to each area of advocacy.  Silo walls are for farms.
  • We need to listen to our critics and learn from them, even if we don’t agree with them. There is a kernel of wisdom to be found by listening.   
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship is a blunt instrument for responding to elder abuse or exploitation.  To use politically incorrect words, we are punishing the victim instead of the perpetrator, when we use guardianship or conservatorship as an intervention in adult abuse cases. 
  • When working on law reform, all parties who are impacted need to be at the table.  Well drafted statutory changes are often derailed at the last minute because interest groups who were not involved in the process, say “we haven’t had time to consider this.”  Include everyone in the process.
  • Many attorneys and other advocates experience secondary trauma when helping clients who have experienced abuse, and loss. We need to better support the mental health of service providers. 
  • Updating laws is complicated. Many issues require guidance for change at the state and local level. Congress can’t change state laws, but it can fund technical assistance and training that empowers states to make changes that are needed.
  •  Millennials are largest generation in the United States, and 17 years after the baby boomers, millennials will have an even larger demographic impact. The Boomers have not crushed the system, and a large percentage of adults living longer is a fact of the future.

I wish Erica well as Director of the Commission on Law and Aging. She has a great team with Beth Russo, Trisha Bullock, and Sonia Arce. I am encouraging her to make changes, to draw on our 45-year legacy, and lead boldly into a changing future. We have strong leadership with our Commissioners, Advisors and Liaisons.  The ABA Center for Public Interest Law supports our mission and is fighting for our future.  ABA members are the best lawyers and legal minds in the country, and they are pulling for our success. 

All of you, please take care of yourself.  I close nearly all of my emails with the phrase “Take Care,” and I mean it.  Take care of yourself, if don’t you won’t be here to take care of others. Lawyers are caregivers.  We care about our clients, and often put our clients ahead of taking care of ourselves.  Take care of yourself along the way.  And take care of the Commission on Law and Aging by financially supporting our work, so we can be here for you. 

Erica: When I first started at the ABA, David Godfrey gave me a copy of a book entitled, “Who Moved My Cheese: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life”—which addresses how people react to change within their workplace and personal lives. The book emphasizes seeking out and embracing opportunities that come along with change (an important lesson to keep in mind as we experience current changes in our office and profession).    

The Commission on Law and Aging (COLA) has always been a wonderful resource for attorneys and legal professionals seeking information on issues affecting adults as they age.  As we transition into the new year, COLA will continue to focus its great work on research, policy development, advocacy, education, training and through assistance to lawyers, bar associations and others working on aging issues.

However, we must also “move with the cheese”—and during this time of transition, we are looking at new ways to connect with our members and provide resources to attorneys and other professionals in the field of aging. Here are several examples of the things we are doing in 2024 to adapt to recent changes within our office and profession:

  • In January, we launched a podcast called “Advocates of Aging,” which provides listeners with interviews and stories from practitioners and advocates on popular topics related to aging, including best practice tips for professionals and career advice. A new episode will be released monthly and published on COLA’s website (and on our YouTube channel). Connect with us on our social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, to learn more about the podcast and upcoming episodes.
  • We are bringing back the National Aging and Law Conference (NALC) as an in-person event and the conference will be held on May 16-18, 2024, at the University of Miami School of Law. We are co-hosting the event with the ABA Senior Lawyers Division (SLD) and the conference will be held on May 16-17, followed by the SLD’s annual spring meeting on May 18. There will be a variety of sessions at the conference on topics relating to guardianship and less restrictive alternatives, abuse and financial exploitation, capacity, and long-term care and caregiving options. Registration for the event will soon be posted on our website, so check it out if you are interested in attending as space will be limited.
  • We recently published a “first of its kind” book, called “Defense Against Guardianship: A Lawyer’s Guide to Representing Individuals in Guardianship Cases.” The book provides helpful strategies, tips, and best practices to assist attorneys with the representation of individuals in guardianship and conservatorship cases. We look forward to continuing our work in this area and offering resources to those who zealously advocate for the rights of their clients.

COLA’s motto this year is: “Onward!” (an expression commonly used by David at the end of all conversations). Thank you, David, for all you have done for COLA and for sharing your advice, knowledge, and experiences over the years. We wish you much joy and happiness in your retirement.

2024 is starting off to be a great year for COLA.  We look forward to continuing to work with our Commissioners, Advisors, Liaisons, and ABA members on future projects and opportunities.  And we look forward to embracing change and moving in whatever direction “the cheese” takes us. 

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