(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 36, Issue 2.)
There were three major projects for the ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s work on legal services in the past year: creating and hosting the 2014 National Aging and Law Conference; a major update and redesign of the National Legal Resource Center website; and continuation of our Elder Law Essential Webinar Series. The Commission has a long history of working to empower aging and legal services providers to meet the needs of older clients. We do this in part by “research, policy development, technical assistance, advocacy, education, and training.”
National Aging and Law Conference
In 2014 the Commission assumed responsibility for hosting the National Aging and Law Conference (NALC). NALC 2014 held October 16th and 17th in the Brickfield Center at AARP, and was a smashing success. We sold the space out six weeks before the program, ending 145 registrations, total attendance of over 150 and sadly turning away people on the registration waiting list because of a lack of space. The agenda featured four plenary sessions and 19 workshops over two days. We hosted a listening session for the planned 2015 White House Conference on Aging over lunch on the first day. AARP generously supported NALC by supplying space, audio visual services and underwriting the conference reception. The Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging underwrote a block of staff time making it possible for Commission to devote significant time to planning and organizing the Conference.
The Commission has a long history of being involved in national conferences on aging and law, starting about 30 years ago with the Joint Conference on Law and Aging, followed by the AARP organized National Aging and Law Conference, and later by the NAELA hosted National Aging and Law Institute. The NAELA Institute was held for the last time in 2013, leaving no one organizing a national elder law conference for public interest advocates. In looking for a successor conference we talked to the ABA Center for Professional Development and the collaborators who had been active in past conferences. The consensus was that there was a need for a conference on poverty elder law. There are other great conferences on estate planning and elder law, what was missing was a conference focusing on the legal needs of low income and at risk seniors and the advocates that develop and deliver legal services to them. From this we decided to bring back the National Aging and Law Conference with a renewed focus on these issues.
We recruited a planning committee representing over a dozen outside co-sponsors and eight ABA co-sponsor entities. The planning committee reviewed over 50 workshop proposals to create a sharply focused agenda with over 70 speakers on 23 programs. The speakers submitted voluminous written materials, over 1,150 pages that have been edited into a book that is available on the ABA webstore (visit the store and enter code: ALCCOR60 for a 60% discount when ordering this book).
Planning is underway for the 2015 National Aging and Law Conference to be held at the Hilton Arlington on October 29 and 30. The new venue will allow us to accommodate up to 220 attendees and allow us to expand the agenda with 4 plenaries and 24 or more workshops.
NLRC Website Update
The Commission is a partner in the Administration for Community Living, National Legal Resource Center (NLRC). We are one of five grantees in the NLRC with our role being to create, collect and disseminate resources on aging and law and facilitate coordination of the activities of the Center partners to support the aging and legal services community in meeting the needs of older Americans with the greatest economic and social needs. The other partners in the NLRC are the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, National Consumer Law Center, National Senior Citizens Law Center and The Center for Social Gerontology. The NLRC is in its seventh year.
The virtual home of the NLRC is the webpage at www.NLRC.ACL.gov. Over the course of the past year, the website underwent a total redesign with a line-by-line review of all content and the addition of new sections on emerging issues and concepts. The first step was a reexamination of the purpose and goals of the website. The new website focusses on the user experience. When we asked “what do visitors come to the site for?” the answer was clear from looking at the website analytics that visitors come seeking information in eight primary areas. The new website focusses on those eight with “accordion tabs” that are clickable and linked to a randomizer so each time you visit the page a different one is featured. The menu bar was redesigned to modern standards. All existing content was reviewed with the help of law student pro bono volunteers from Stetson University College of Law to assure that the content is current, that content matches the description, and that the links work. New content was added in supported decision-making and in legal service development and delivery. Website maintenance involves about 300 additions and updates per year and is part of the Commission’s ongoing work on the NLRC project.
Communication and Dissemination
Our communications tools have two goals, to spread awareness of our work and to provide a forum for discussion of issues in aging and law. We use a series of electronic tools to spread the word about our work. Bifocal is the e-journal of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging; this free bi-monthly publication goes out to nearly 1,600 subscribers. We host three email discussion lists: Elderbar is the a discussion list for professionals in law and aging with over 950 members, Collaborate is a discussion list for professionals in elder mediation with nearly 500 members, and Elderlink is a discussion list for ABA members and staff interested in law and aging with over 120 subscribers. Each of these media has a different purpose, with overlapping audiences. All are offered without charge.
COLA Webinar Series
Elder Law Essentials
The COLA Elder Law Essentials webinar series continues as a way for the Commission staff and our network of experts to provide education and training on essential issues in law and aging. This year we hosted five programs:
Fundamentals of Family Caregiver Agreements: Taking Care of Those Who Care for Others. This program was inspired by a chapter on this important topic in the book Alzheimer’s and the Law written by Commissioner Kerry Peck. Commissioner Peck teamed up with Dianna Law for this excellent program.
Health Care Decisions and the F Word: Counseling Clients about Medical Futility. The idea for this program came from two cases in the news at the time, one family fighting to discontinue life support and another fighting to continue it. Robert Fine, MD; Bernard Hammes, Ph.D; and Thaddeus Mason Pope, JD, explored the legal and ethical issues of modern medical technology.
Social Security Retirement Strategies: Helping Your Clients Maximize Benefits. Featuring William Meyer, of Social Security Solutions and John Whitelaw, of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia this program explored the complex issues of when to start Social Security benefits, the impact of working after retirement with a focus on strategies for drawing the entire benefit a worker has earned. (Unfortunately, an audio recording of this webinar is not available for purchase.)
What is a Good Guardian? Understanding and Using National Guardianship Standards. Sally Hurme of AARP and Erica Wood, Assistant Director of the Commission explored how to applying the standards of practice of the National Guardianship Association can improve guardianship and enhance the quality of life persons with a guardian.
Ethical Issues of Representing a Client with Diminished Capacity. COLA Commissioners Judge Patricia Banks and Kerry Peck, with Professor Rebecca Morgan explored the ethical and practical challenges of working with clients with diminished capacity. The faculty explored the obligation to maintain a normal attorney client relationship, confidentiality, while being a zealous advocate and protecting clients from harm.
The programs offer continuing legal education credit. Recordings of four of the five programs presented this year are available for purchase. Plans are underway for webinars in 2015.