May 01, 2012

Elder Law Day Program Keeps Focus on Rights

Jamie Philpotts

On May 17, the Arlington County, Va., Bar Association, with partners from the county government and Legal Services of Northern Virginia, hosted the 35th Annual Senior Law Day. The focus, which was the ABA’s 2012 Law Day theme, was “Elder Rights: No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.”

The free program, held at the county’s Central Library, drew a large audience. Light refreshments and informational exhibits geared toward the interests of seniors drew a large crowd.

Moderating the event was elder law attorney Elizabeth Wildhack, co-chair of the law and aging section of the Arlington County Bar Association. Ms. Wildhack opened the program by asking Terri Lynch, director of Arlington’s Area Agency on Aging, to read the official proclamation declaring May 17 Senior Law Day in Arlington and the month of May as Older Americans Month.

In her remarks, Ms. Wildhack talked about the importance of planning. She stressed that it was not just about making a will, but identifying a person you trust to make personal health or financial decisions for you if you become unable to make them for yourself. She recounted her experiences with numerous families in crisis who call and ask for her help. Many of these problems could have been avoided with planning. Ms. Wildhack referred the group to a number of useful and free resources, including the ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s online universal health care power of attorney.

The day’s headline speaker was the Honorable Joanne F. Alper of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court. In an engaging presentation, Judge Alper described Virginia’s court system, including the different kinds of courts and their jurisdictions. She also spoke about the seriousness of scams being perpetrated on seniors. “Sometimes you can recover from a knife wound faster than you can a financial crime,” Judge Alper cautioned.

State Senator Barbara Favola provided the audience with statistics about Virginia’s growing elder population and encouraged seniors to use their political muscle to make sure their issues are brought to the forefront.

Following a ten-minute program break, the Honorable Theo Stamos, newly elected Commonwealth Attorney, described the function of her office. She explained that the job of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, not to be confused with the attorney general, was to prosecute crime. Ms. Stamos noted that her office had 15 prosecutors, but also 11 victims witness advocates, whose job it is to help victims of crimes understand the services that are available to them and what to expect in the court room. 

The 35th Arlington Bar Association Elder Law Day event drew a packed crowd to the Central Library auditorium. The program was scheduled for several hours, but it went by very quickly. You could tell the audience was engaged by all the questions they had for the speakers.

This event could serve as a model for your Elder Law Day program. Following are a few things I observed that contributed to the success of this event:

  • Locate the program in a place that is easy to access and familiar to the audience.
  • Coffee and cookies are a big draw!
  • Have a personable host, who is familiar with the audience and knowledgeable about their issues and the community.
  • Invite engaging speakers and ask them to limit their remarks to a specific topic.
  • Include plenty of time for questions from the audience.
  • Include breaks for people to stretch and use the rest room.
  •  Invite the audience to complete an evaluation form after the program, so you can build on what was successful and make adjustments for aspects that were less so.

According to the program’s organizers, planning for this early summer event began in the fall. This included securing the speakers; locating and reserving space; and lots and lots of outreach!

Jamie Philpotts

About the Author: Jamie Philpotts is the Editor at the Commission on Law and Aging.