Attorneys who practice Elder Law know that being a successful and effective advocate for elderly clients requires more than just a thorough understanding of the substantive law. Elderly clients present a unique set of vulnerabilities that can manifest as problems with communication, ambulation, diminished mental capacity, and potential abuse. These specific vulnerabilities demand a combination of patience, sensitivity, zeal and ingenuity, creating a stimulating and rewarding experience for students. Since working with elderly clients requires so much of attorneys, and since 10,000 Americans are reaching retirement age every day, taking an Elder Law clinic in law school is an invaluable opportunity for aspiring lawyers.
There are approximately 30 Elder Law clinics at law schools throughout the country, where students are given the opportunity to represent older adult clients in a variety of contexts. This article includes perspectives from three students who each participated in one of those clinics: Adam, from The University of Memphis Elder Law Clinic, Kristen from the Elder Financial Justice Clinic (EFJC) at the University of Illinois College of Law, and Emily, from the Helping Elders through Litigation and Policy (HELP) clinic at Brooklyn Law School.
Each clinic deals with a different area of law, but as these students found, the most important lessons were universal. This article contains the students’ thoughts on the various obstacles they faced, and specific situations they experienced that contributed to their learning.