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December 01, 2015

National Aging and Law Conference

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

The 2015 National Aging and Law Conference (NALC) was held October 29th and 30th at the Hilton Ballston in Arlington, Virginia. This is the second year in a row that the Commission on Law and Aging (the Commission) has partnered with the ABA Center for Professional Development to create and host the Conference. The conference was attended by over 160 advocates from 35 states.

The theme of NALC 2015 was Celebrating Anniversaries with Action, and focused on the 80th anniversary of Social Security; the 50th anniversaries of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act; and the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The impact of these landmark laws on the quality of life of older Americans is immeasurable. The Acts have dramatically reduced poverty for older adults, improved access to medical benefits, provided critical community services, and improved access and participation in community life for millions of older adults. The Conference-theme plenary featured David Certner from AARP, an expert on Social Security; Judy Feder of Georgetown University, an expert on Medicare and Medicaid; Shira Wakschlag of The ARC, an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act; and William Alvardo Rivera of the Department of Health and Human Services, an expert on the Older Americans Act. The speakers reviewed the critical role these laws play, and made suggestions on action to strengthen and preserve the acts.

The second plenary session was titled Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services. Moderated by Commission Chair Judge Patricia Banks, it featured Edwin Walker from the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and Lori Stiegel of the Commission. This session explored the work of the ACL Office of Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services and the critical role legal services providers play in identifying, responding to, and remediating elder abuse in all of its forms.

The second day of the agenda kicked off for the second year in a row with the Rapid Fire Plenary session. The session was introduced by Jack Rives, Executive Director of the ABA. Rapid Fire sessions featured ten speakers with five minutes each and with the charge to “wow the audience.” Topics included health care, advance directives, human rights, family conflict, guardianship, and pro bono rules.

The last plenary was an exploration of Supported Decision Making (SDM). The session introduced the audience to a tool under development known as PRACTICAL, designed to walk lawyers through the alternative decision-making models that should be exhausted before guardianship is considered. The session featured Jonathan Martinis of the Quality Trust, Erica Wood of the Commission, Rebekah Diller of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law - Yeshiva University, and Nina Kohn of Syracuse University College of Law. Video from the session can be found at

In addition, the agenda featured 24 workshops on topics including health care, estate planning, legal ethics, legal service development and delivery, consumer law, individual rights, income security, and disabilities issues. One of the goals of the Conference planning committee was to balance the agenda with meaningful coverage of the key issues in law and aging. There were over 70 speakers involved in presenting the program this year. The agenda offered 11.5 hours of continuing legal education credits, with up to 3.25 hours of that in legal ethics.

Planning for the conference starts about a year in advance. The planning committee has grown to 25 people representing aging advocacy organizations, legal aid providers, professional organizations, and government agencies. About 80% of the sessions are selected from a public request for proposals (RFP) process.

The Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging was a major sponsor of NALC, providing direct funding to offset costs of the conference. This funding made possible the opening reception, enhanced audio visual services, and WiFi in the meeting space. AARP Foundation Litigation provided funding for the Jerry D. Florence attendee scholarships again this year, easing the burden of attending for a dozen advocates. Interactive Legal was a paid exhibitor at NALC. Interactive Legal provides law office automation software and is piloting a new package for legal aid programs.

Planning is underway for the 2016 National Aging and Law Conference. The conference theme will be Elder Justice and the conference will be in the Washington, DC, area, most likely in October. Watch Bifocal and the Elderbar discussion list for information.

Once again, the core of the agenda will be filled with an RFP process that allows professionals interested in speaking to submit a proposal for a workshop or plenary session. Each workshop requires a minimum of two speakers. The call for proposals will go out in first quarter of 2016.

Where to Go for Further Information

For the latest on NALC activities, see the webpage.