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December 01, 2013

2013 Overview: Legal Service Delivery, Program Development, and Older Americans Act Highlights

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: BIFOCAL Vol. 35, Issue 2.)

The work of the Commission includes developing resources on “legal services delivery, program development, and training for consumers and professionals.” A major part of this is coordinating the Commission’s role in the National Legal Resource Center (NLRC). The NLRC is a collaborative project funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living/ Administration on Aging to support aging and legal services providers.

Our project partners in the NLRC include the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, National Consumer Law Center, National Senior Citizens Law Center and The Center for Social Gerontology. The Commission’s role in the NLRC is to create, collect, and disseminate resources on issues in law and aging.

National Legal Resource Center
The NLRC had a good year. The public face of the NLRC is its website,, which hosts content maintained by Commission staff. During the 12 months ending November 30, 2013, the site was updated 250 times and received 260,784 page views from 107,933 visitors.

Commission staff is now working with ACL/AoA to redesign, update, and modernize the NLRC home page. The redesigned site will incorporate social media feeds.

Email Discussion Lists
Email discussion lists continue to be a significant part of our work in this field.

Elderbar is the largest of the Commission’s discussion lists. It is a general discussion list that is free and open to any professional in law or aging community. The Elderbar list continues slow but steady growth. As of December 1, Elderbar has 914 active subscribers, up from 860 a year before. Over the course of the year, Elderbar carried more than 300 messages.

Elderlink is a discussion list for ABA members and staff with an interest in law and aging. As of December 1, Elderlink has 117 active subscribers, up from 79 subscribers a year ago.

Collaborate is the Commission’s email discussion list on elder mediation. The year saw significant growth in Collaborate from 281 active subscribers to 471 as a result of inviting members of the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Section on Elder Decision-Making and Conflict Resolution to join the list. The rate of postings on Collaborate has more than doubled in the past year, from an average of four per month to nine per month.

The Commission published two articles this year based on original research on legal assistance to older Americans. The Administration on Aging only collects the number of “units of service” and number of “unduplicated clients”—this high-level data results in a gap in understanding of the types of legal assistance provided to persons eligible for services under the Older Americans Act. To fill this gap, the Commission recruited and managed law student volunteers who requested statewide case service data in Legal Service Corporation format from legal service providers in about 25 states. By late 2012, statewide data from eight states had been gathered.

The first article highlighting this research, “A More Detailed Look at Legal Services by Older Americans Act Funded Providers,” ran in Bifocal’s April 2013 issue. The article reported on the results of the survey and provided total legal assistance broken down by Legal Service Corporation problem codes from the eight reporting states.

The second article, “Getting Our Priorities Straight,” was published in Bifocal's August 
2013 issue. This thought-provoking piece compared the reported case service data to general civil legal aid data and explored what the data may tell us about how well we are meeting the priority legal needs of older Americans with the greatest economic and social needs—to see if we have our priorities straight.

The two articles have stimulated significant interest and conversation about how legal service providers can best meet the needs of the neediest older Americans. The articles have been widely circulated inside the Administration and by Congressional staff.

Older Americans Act Efforts
Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA) continues as an ongoing effort. The Act originally passed
in 1965 and has been periodically reviewed and reauthorized; the current authorizing statute expired in 2011. The NLRC is funded through the OAA, with the goal of supporting programs funded through the Act. The ABA adopted policy in 2010 supporting reauthorization based on recommendations from the Commission.

For over three years, the Commission has hosted periodic conference calls for aging and legal services advocates interested in reauthorization. This year, staff guided the call participants through generating a common vision and principles for reauthorization published in the June issue of Bifocal.

The latest reauthorization bill was filed in September as S-1562. The bill passed out of Committee and was referred to the Senate floor on October 30. The forum participants met in person during the November National Aging and Law Institute and received a briefing on the bill from staff of the Senate committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP).

Law Student Interns and Externs
The Commission is committed to developing the next generation
of law and aging advocates and, to that end, supports a strong internship and externship program. These law students engage in substantive research, write articles, and attend substantive and policy briefings, giving them a well-rounded exposure to issues and policy in law and aging.

For years, the Commission focused on recruiting two paid summer interns each year. Over the past five years, funding to pay interns has become very difficult to find and staff has shifted to hosting law students who are either unpaid interns or who are externs for academic credit. Students are now also recruited for the spring and fall semesters. In 2013, we hosted two students each semester. Three of the six law students worked the equivalent of a full-time schedule. Two students are already committed for Spring 2014 and two for Summer 2014.

Inter-ABA Collaboration
For a few years, the Commission has organized and hosted quarterly “ABA Aging and Law Networking Calls.” The calls are open to ABA entity leaders and staff with an interest in collaboration on CLE programming, publication planning, discussion of policy proposals, and awareness of law and aging issues. Interest and participation in the calls grew in 2013.

In fact, Commission efforts to encourage inter-ABA collaboration on law and aging issues were recognized by the ABA's Center for Professional Development this year. The Commission received a 2013 “Partner Appreciation Smart Decision Award” to recognize the "bucket meeting" brainstorming and information-sharing session organized by Commission staff during a visit to ABA headquarters in Chicago.

This successful approach to collaboration on law and aging issues is particularly important for the ABA—the Association does not have an elder law entity. Everyone benefits from the Commission's leadership and focus on these important issues. ■