In a national survey of hundreds elder law attorneys across the country conducted in 2014, more than 50% indicated that elder abuse is one of the issues they confront most frequently in their practices. Therefore, for attorneys with older adult clients, continuing education about elder abuse issues and resources is critical to a successful career.
Attorneys in New York State are no exception. At the New York State Bar Association’s Elder Law Section Fall Meeting, elder abuse led the agenda. As the Staff Attorney at the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, the nation’s first elder abuse shelter, I provide legal services to older adults who are forced to flee their homes due to elder abuse. I was honored to give the opening presentation at the two-day event. My discussion focused on attorneys’ ethical obligations towards clients, and how those principles can be applied in situations of suspected elder abuse. For example, attorneys are required to meet with a client alone in order to establish a confidential relationship and allow the older person the opportunity to disclose any concerns or fears they may have about the services the lawyer is providing. This is true even if someone other than the older person is paying the lawyer’s fees.
The Fall Meeting also ended with an a panel discussion about elder abuse, which included Joy Solomon, the Weinberg Center’s Director and Managing Attorney. Joy spoke about the need to be mindful of age associated financial vulnerability, a term emerging from new neurological studies indicating that age-related brain deterioration can cause otherwise fully functional older adults to be more susceptible to financial scams. It is critical that elder law attorneys understand the effects of the aging process, and cultivate a network of community resources across a variety of professions.
Increased visibility for elder abuse within the legal community is part of the mission of the New York State Bar Association’s Elder Law Section’s Elder Abuse Committee. The Committee’s mission is to increase legal practitioners’ proactive and informed responses to elder abuse through substantive educational programming, resource creation and distribution and community building. The prominent role of sessions on elder abuse at the Fall Meeting, and the positive response they received, indicates encouraging progress towards those goals.