Are you prepared to work effectively with older clients? We can help. As baby boomers enter retirement age they present various ethical, legal and logistical challenges for those providing legal services and support. Seniors First BC can help you and your team better accommodate your older clients and improve the delivery of your services in several areas:
1. Accommodating Older Adults
First of all you want to ensure your workplace is welcoming to older adults, that you are taking into account and accommodating their needs. Is your workplace ‘age friendly?’ Is it accessible? Is it ‘dementia friendly?’ Are your staff aware of how to interact appropriately and respond to some of the needs older adults as clients? Are you?
A legal workplace is now more than ‘bricks and mortar.’ Your website is an important part of your ‘brand.’ Is it ‘age friendly?’
We provide some tools and protocols to help ensure you are properly accommodating older adults.
2. Ethical challenges
As clients, older adults present unique ethical challenges for a legal worker. Right from when they walk in your door, older adults may present challenges. Unlike most clients, older adult will usually not arrive at your workplace alone – they are usually accompanied by concerned relatives, friends or others. This raises some ethical challenges such as:
• who is the client?
• who should be involved in the interview?
• are there conflicts of interest to be considered?
• will there be/should there be joint representation?
• is undue influence affecting the older adult’s free will?
• are there other signs of abuse or neglect, and if so how should you respond?
• are there signs of diminished capacity, and how do you respond to this [see section 3]?
The capacity issue raises a number of other questions. Who assesses capacity? What is the legal standard of capacity for the transaction at hand? Do you need to refer to a medical professional? You will need to know more about dementia and other medical conditions than you probably ever wanted to know, and you probably weren’t taught this in law school.
What are your obligations under the Law Society’s Code of Conduct when dealing with a client with diminished capacity? When can and should you take ‘protective action’ under the rules of professional conduct? What things should you consider when helping an older adult with challenges prepare for a hearing or deposition? We provide useful tools and tips for addressing these ethical challenges.
4. Supported Decision Making
As was mentioned in discussing autonomy, an important aspect of ensuring autonomy whenever possible is supported those with diminished capacity in making decisions. The recent passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Canada in March 2010, has increased the focus on legal models of supported decision- making. Article 12 of the Convention, entitled Equal Protection before the Law, states that “States Parties shall recognize that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life,” and “take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.” Some see this as a ‘paradigm shift’ in regard to the rights of those with limited capacity.
5. Timeliness and efficiency in providing services
Time is an important consideration when working with older adults. As one elder law professor has noted, working with older adults is largely about “time and talk.” Time can be of the essence in legal matters. Your client’s condition may deteriorate over the course of your representation, or they may pass away suddenly. Boomers and their children will have expectations that the work will be done as efficiently and as inexpensively as possible. They will have one eye on online services providers offering legal documents and solutions at a fraction of the cost and time. So you want to work as quickly and efficiently as possible when providing legal services to older adults. Legal workers spend significant time working in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and searching a network drive or on the Internet. We provide some useful tools and tips for working efficiently in all of these areas, so you can devote more time to what you should be focusing on, providing the best assistance possible to the older adult who has come to you for help.
6. Specific Areas of Elder Law
Legal, Financial, Physical and Emotional Abuse in our older adults is on the rise. Older adults are living longer, and are more likely to face capacity challenges as they get older. They will want to know what might happen if they lose capacity, and how to plan for possible incapacity. Older adults, and friends and neighbours, may come to you about elder abuse or exploitation. There are some challenging aspects to responding to this, including family dynamics, lack of documentation (e.g. – undocumented family loans), rogue attorneys under a power of attorney, legal presumptions, undue influence, constructive or resulting trusts, use of civil restitution, reluctance to prosecute (on the part of police and crown prosecutors, but also on the part of the older adult as well), and other barriers to seeking remedies. These many areas of elder law present unique legal challenges.
7. Legal Information
We have collected legal information that may be of interest to Professionals dealing with Elder Advocacy issues. This information includes the following resources: