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December 01, 2015

Legal Services & Training

David M. Godfrey

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 37, Issue 2.)

The core of the mission of the Commission on Law and Aging is “to strengthen and secure the legal rights, dignity, autonomy, quality of life, and quality of care of elders.” An important part of this is providing expert advice, training, and resources to attorneys and other advocates providing assistance to older Americans. The year saw a new funding cycle for the Commission's work in this field from the Administration for Community Living (ACL), the hosting of the National Aging and Law Conference, and the Commission's 6th year of the Elder Law Essentials webinar series. Our efforts reached audiences in 45 states.

Administration for Community Living Grant Work

The Commission has received funding to improve access to legal assistance by older adults by providing leadership, resources, expert advice and training, from the Administration on Aging, now part of the ACL, for over 25 years. Over the years, the focus of the project has evolved and changed. Starting July 1, 2015, the Commission began a new one-year funding cycle that shifts focus from resource development to training and expert advice—also known as case consultation. The Commission provides speakers and expert trainers an average of 60 times per year (248 times in the four years ending 5/31/2015). The new funding request asked us to focus on this effort. There was an additional request to focus training efforts on states that are current and past Model Approaches to Legal Service Development grantees and funding for travel was earmarked in the project budget to make that possible. The Commission has long responded to requests for expert advice, primarily from professionals in law and aging, but also from consumers. Commission staff had not tracked the volume of this advice for several years as it was not reportable under our prior work plan. In the first three months of tracking this work, COLA reported providing expert advice 159 times to a wide array of aging and legal services professionals on a broad spectrum of issues.

Commission staff maintain the Elderbar and Collaborate email discussion lists as tools for sharing information with attorneys and other advocates. Membership on Elderbar has grown by 38% over the past 4 years and Collaborate has grown by 140%. (Collaborate is cosponsored by the Association for Conflict Resolution.) Bifocal is also an important tool for reaching our audience, subscriptions to Bifocal have grown by over 37% in the past four years. While the new work plan shifted the focus, Commission staff continue to maintain content on the NLRC website at www.NLRC.ACL.Gov.

National Law and Aging Conference

For the second year, the Commission organized and hosted the National Aging and Law Conference (NALC) on October 29 and 30th at the Hilton Hotel in Arlington, VA. Planning for the conference started 13 months before the program date. The planning committee represent legal aid programs, government agencies, and national advocacy programs. The majority of the agenda is assembled from a request for proposals process bringing in a mix of experienced and new presenters to build a very strong agenda. The focus of NALC is on issues that impact older adults with the greatest economic and social needs. The conference included 24 workshops and 4 plenary sessions over two days. 163 people registered for the conference. NALC is a major opportunity for the Commission to help develop the skills and knowledge of front-line advocates, so they can make a difference in the lives of older Americans.

Elder Law Essentials Webinar Series

To provide online virtual education on critical issues the Commission started producing an Elder Law Essentials webinar series six years ago. This calendar year the Commission produced three CLE-accredited webinars.

  • SSI: What Every Attorney Needs to Know
  • VA Pension: Income Security for Veterans and Their Family
  • Tax Basics: Special Needs Planning for Families

NALC and the webinar series also produce modest non-dues revenue for the Commission that help to supplement staff time and other expenses. These efforts netted about $20,000 in 2015.

Where to Go for Further Information

For the latest on all of the above activities, see the Commission's Events & CLE webpage at: ■

David M. Godfrey

David M. Godfrey is a Senior Attorney at the ABA Commission on Law and Aging in Washington, DC.