July 30, 2019 Elder Law

New Path Taken Into the Practice of Elder Law

By Denis P. Rischard

I became interested in the practice of Elder Law a little over 6 years ago. For my first 27 years as an attorney, I had maintained a civil trial practice out of Oklahoma City handling and trying cases involving complex medical and economic issues across the state of Oklahoma and even throughout the country. I had worked in settings ranging from mid-sized firms to solo practice, and while I enjoyed the challenge and excitement of trial work, I felt a calling to shift my practice into one that focused on helping the elder and special needs populations.

This "calling” did not happen overnight, and there were several “ah-ha” moments that led to my decision to change my practice and pursue Elder Law. The most memorable of these moments occurred in the summer of 2012, after I had spent months working on a hotly-contested business dispute that was the subject of a fast-track arbitration proceeding. I was a solo practitioner at the time, and this case required most of my time and attention for nearly two months. And while I was very proud of the work I put in and the case we presented to the arbitrator, my client could not accept that our favorable result did not meet his expectations and refused to pay my final invoice. That distasteful experience ultimately led me to change my practice to Elder Law, one that allows me to help grateful individuals and families while also providing financial security for me and my family.

Not long after the fateful litigation case was concluded, I received one of those “random attorney marketing” emails, suggesting it was possible to have an Elder Law practice that was professionally, personally, and financially rewarding. Having been somewhat disillusioned by a business litigant to whom I had devoted so much time, energy, and effort, I “took the bait,” went to an elder law practice-building conference…and the rest (my venture into the practice of Elder Law) is now history!

At that initial conference I met many Elder Law practitioners from across the country who graciously afforded me their time, wisdom, and good counsel. From them, I learned about Elder Law, how to become an Elder Law practitioner and start a practice. A sage, kind, and benevolent Elder Law attorney in Lexington, Kentucky, afforded me significant time to help create my practice road map. The helpful advice to consider Elder Law practice groups, follow listservs, and attend certain conferences and practice-building sessions was invaluable, and gave me the jump start I needed.

Following several months of immersing myself into all things Elder Law, in the summer of 2013 I attended Wealth Counsel’s Planning for the Generations Symposium in Denver. At that point, I felt prepared and confident enough to begin an earnest transition into Elder Law practice, and I opened the Elder Law Section of my firm called the Oklahoma Disability and Elder Law Advocates (ODELA). Throughout the last 6 years I have attended numerous conferences, seminars, CLE’s, and webinars to gain the knowledge and expertise I am now able to use to help my aging and special needs clients with their wide range of needs, including planning for their futures while protecting their legacies.

The growth I have seen in my practice of Elder Law is largely attributed to various industry groups such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), Elder Counsel, and Lawyers with Purpose. These groups have provided me and my firm with not only technical and software support for the planning documents we use to serve our clients, but also a vast knowledge base and a tremendous network of resources and referrals.

The national Elder Law community is special for many reasons, but I have been most impressed with the camaraderie, collegiality, and support between and among Elder Law attorneys. Some of the most magnificent legal minds I have encountered are committed to this growing practice area, and their willingness to share their knowledge, experience, and expertise with those who ask is encouraging to witness. In such a relatively new area of the law, and one that will only become more necessary as the need for specialized planning services hits the aging Baby Boomer population, it is refreshing to see how the networks of Elder Law attorneys build each other to better serve their clients.

Practicing Elder Law has provided me with profound benefits, both professionally and personally. Although it was not easy to delve into an entirely new practice of law after 26 years in litigation, I enjoyed being challenged to learn the complexities and nuances of Elder Law. In this area, I am also still able to use my litigation skills in certain situations, such as trust and estate disputes and elder financial exploitation cases. This practice has also allowed me to strengthen my relationships with other professionals -- such as financial advisors and health care providers – and as my networks have grown, I’ve had the opportunity to provide guidance and counsel to their clients and patients in trying times.

The practice of Elder Law also has been professionally energizing in the sense that I get to do every day what I set out to do when I became an attorney: help people. Although I know I was helping my clients as a litigator, there is something uniquely special about the relationships I form with both my planning clients and those who are facing some legal peril unique to the aging population. Their peace of mind and gratitude for the work and counsel I provide them is not dependent on a verdict or a settlement, but rather solely on the plans I help them create and the resolutions we achieve to the problems they face as they age. The team I have the privilege of working with every day does an incredible job cultivating an atmosphere in our office that makes our clients feel like family, which is necessary in this business because our clients are all dealing with deeply personal and family-related issues. We can do what we do every day because our clients trust us to walk them through difficult and often complicated situations while listening to their needs and concerns.

Practicing Elder Law has also impacted my personal life in a variety of ways. Most significantly, I can plan and structure my time at the office to meet with clients and design their plans and accomplish their work as needed while still affording me the time necessary to be available for my family. I have been married for almost 33 years, and my wife and I have ten beautiful children, three of whom are still school age and living at home. I am grateful the Elder Law practice gives me the flexibility to both serve my clients and be there for the important moments in my family life.

Author

Denis P.  Rischard is the Founder, President and Managing Attorney of Rischard & Associates, PLLC and the   Oklahoma Disability  and  Elder  Law Advocates (ODELA). With over 30 years of extensive experience in various types of civil trial work, Mr. Rischard continues to maintain a civil trial practice that encompasses trust, estate and fiduciary litigation, as well as other disputes involving the protection of elder property and personal decision-making rights.

A member of several national and local elder and estate planning associations, Mr. Rischard is a frequent seminar speaker on elder and special needs planning topics, including the topic of assessing the risk of growing old, addressing long-term care and asset protection planning for the ever-growing elder population as well as those with special needs.