Friday, December 05, 2008

Elder Law Attorney as Family Counselor

On December 3, 2008, a Pennsylvania elder law attorney, Laurel Hartshorn, of Saxonburg, related a story on the PA Elder Law Section's listserv that highlighted the good work of elder law attorneys with aged clients and their families.

I post Laurel's account (as edited by me) with her permission.

Had a wonderful call today. A client's daughter called to thank me.

The daughter and her brother met with me two weeks ago to talk about their mother. Mom was failing quickly and they needed some advice.

One of the issues we discussed was medications.

At the Elder Law seminar in July, I attended the lecture by a blind geriatric doctor. He stressed how medications could get mixed up or have bad combinations. He also said that the changes might occur rapidly.

Since that seminar, I have paid particular attention to what caregivers and clients say about rapid changes in health or behavior. So I suggested that daughter talk to mom's pharmacist first and then the doctor.

The daughter went the next day and talked to the pharmacist. Lo and behold, there had been a substitution by the pharmacy in mom's medicines. The pharmacist told the daughter that she though it would be okay, since the drugs were in the same prescription family.

Apparently, however, mom could not tolerate the new drug, and the family did not know about the change.

Mom is back on the correct medication. She is doing much better and is regaining strength.

The family is so happy. They said they could not believe that such a great result could come from a conference with an attorney.

Funny how sometimes I give personal advice. It is just something that I do -- relate information that I had acquired. I might not realize how important non-legal suggestions may become until a client or a family benefits.

I want to thank the organizers of the July conference for bringing in the doctor to speak. At least in my practice, for those clients, his session may have had a life saving effect.
Such stories can be told by most elder law attorneys, who daily offer advice and counseling in the model of the old-style, small town "family lawyer" or "counselor-at-Law," with one objective: Help the aged client.

In an excellent article entitled "
The Lawyer as Counselor Representing the Impaired Client" published in the American Bar Association's General Practice & Solo Magazine (10-11/2004), attorney Timothy David Edwards considered the lawyer's role as a "Counselor-at-Law" in the setting of an addiction affecting a client and creating a disability.

After his detailed analysis of situational factors, scientific developments, and attorney ethical principles, he concluded:

As lawyers, we are in a position to help people who trust us and seek us out for advice.

If we come to understand our client, the nature of addiction, and the appropriate sources of treatment, we are in a better position to provide useful guidance that the client is more likely to accept. By staying involved and providing a compassionate, critical mirror, we can truly make a difference.

This is a daunting responsibility, but it can provide lasting benefits to the impaired client.
This point was reinforced in a message once posted by Thomas J. Ryan, Esq., as President of the State Bar of Michigan, entitled "Attorney and Counselor at Law." He noted:
It is not an overstatement to say that in this way, as counselor, we use our skill in an effort to heal — not just the immediate problem presented to us, but the person as well.

In a very real sense, society benefits as well from this counselor approach. And we should not underestimate the professional fulfillment we derive from our privilege to serve in this capacity. * * *
An elder law lawyer functions
daily as a "counselor-at-law" -- a role that is personally gratifying and professionally beneficial.