Selecting an Elder Law Attorney
As with any form of professional service, selecting the right professional matters. A recent study by Hinge marketing indicated that 68% of buyers of professional services valued “expertise and specialized skill” when selecting a professional. While attorneys are trained in a wide variety of areas, the study revealed that clients want to know that their attorney is committed to the particular service they are seeking, and that the attorney is not just a “jack-of-all-trades and master of none”. In an era where an increasing number of attorneys advertise elder law services, it can be a complicated process for clients to locate the elder law attorneys who are committed or experienced in the field. My clients over the years have asked what they should look for when interviewing elder law attorneys, and I have compiled the following information to help understand more about the field and its practitioners.
- Elder Law is not just estate planning. Elder Law is a specialized legal area that focuses on planning for chronic illness. This practice area involves, among other things, legal aspects of health and long-term care planning, surrogate-decision making authority, disposition of estates, and the tax impact of it all. While estate planning is one component of the practice area, what really makes an attorney an elder law attorney stand out from estate planning attorneys will be their intricate understanding of public benefits, which will include the Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran benefit systems.
There is a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) designation. The National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) certifies elder and special needs law practitioners. The CELA designation ensures that the practitioner not only has significant experience and substantial involvement in the field of elder law, but has taken the time to submit to a comprehensive exam, that has a pass rate below 50%, and peer evaluation. The designation allows the community to identify which attorneys have more than just a basic understanding of elder law cases.
Committed practitioners participate in elder law and special needs planning organizations. You should ask your attorney what organizations they are not just members of, but actively participate in. Important organizations in the field will include the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and its local chapters (in Virginia it would be the Virginia Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (VAELA)), Special Needs Alliance (SNA), and the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNAP). Many practitioners may also be Fellows of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC), a national organization of lawyers who have demonstrated their expertise in the trust and estate practice.
Dedication to the practice of elder law. A tell-tale sign of a true elder law practitioner will be that the primary focus of their practice will be dedicated to elder law. You should assess whether your attorney’s practice has a particular emphasis on elder law, and what percentage of the particular attorney’s cases are related to elder law and special needs planning.
There is a saying that if you think hiring a professional is expensive, you should hire an amateur. We understand that the true cost of a long-term care planning engagement is not only the legal fees for representation, but also the out-of-pocket medical expenses. As a result, Hook Law Center, P.C.’s experience and dedication to the field of elder law enables us to efficiently manage a client’s engagement so as to minimize the cost to the client. Our firm truly focuses on elder law – you will not find our attorneys representing clients in criminal proceedings, real estate closings, divorce or custody matters, or bankruptcy cases and we have three CELAs – which means that we are committed to not being a face in the crowd or a “jack-of-all-trades,” but being the “masters” of elder law.
Ask Kit Kat: Horse Toes
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how a horse’s hoof forms in utero?
Kit Kat: Well, this is really fascinating. Everyone knows that a horse’s hooves appear to be a single unit with a hard outer covering consisting of some of the same material as the human nail. However, scientists have recently realized that “a horse’s hoof is literally a giant middle finger. It seems to be the remnant of a foot that once had five full toes, with only three remaining visible—two vestigial digits are still on either side of the large, hardened middle digit, but there is no trace of the others,” writes Veronique Greenwood in a recent New York Times article. Ms. Greenwood’s observations are the result of reviewing the work of Dr. Kathryn Kavanagh, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Dr. Kavanagh and her colleagues happened to be examining some preserved horse embryos, and they saw some things which no one had ever noticed. In the early stages of gestation, in the hoof area, there were clearly clusters of cells in groups of five, not three. The stage does not last long—perhaps as short as 2 days. They know with precision the length of the stage, because the cell samples were taken from horses artificially inseminated on known dates. Dr. Kavanagh comments, “We think it wasn’t recognized before because the appearance was so brief. It only last a couple of days, and we got really lucky.”
This discovery seems to affirm other findings by other scientists in 2018 who noticed that horses have many more blood vessels and nerves in their legs than would be necessary for an animal with a large single toe. Dr. Kavanagh and her colleagues wonder if other animals like camels and emus would follow the same pattern. This discovery may lead to further study—why does an animal with only one toe still maintain the evolutionary stages of development of an ancestor who may have needed or functioned with a very different kind of hoof? There are implications for the understanding of all evolutionary processes. Why do some processes evolve and others don’t? Stay tuned for further developments. (Veronique Greenwood, “A Horse Has 5 Toes, and Then It Doesn’t,” The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2020)