Society has always, to some extent, realized its older members were special, for their institutional memory, for the wisdom acquired over the years and for many other traits.
That older Americans have special legal needs has been recognized relatively recently.
“Much has been written of late about the aging of America, and indeed of the world as we are all living longer,” according to an article on the website of Stetson University by Rebecca C. Morgan. “Laws have been created specifically to deal with the legal problems faced by older Americans. There is a label for this area of law–elder law. Elder law has grown from a specialty practice to a general area of practice within which an attorney may specialize.
“It took a while for the public to grasp the concept of elder law. In fact, comments were frequently made about the name of the practice area. However, one thing that distinguished elder law from other areas of practice is the holistic nature of elder law. Although the practice area label tends to come from the tasks performed by lawyers, elder law has come to be recognized not only by the legal tasks performed by the lawyers, but by the attorney’s function as a counselor to the client and/or the client’s family, the attorney’s knowledge of the aging services network and the nature of the representation of the clients in the later years of their lives.”
Once the specialty became recognized, Morgan says, it became attractive to not only potential clients but also to lawyers.
“Why the growth and evolution of elder law?” she writes. “One reason may be the demographics. Another reason may be the attraction to a holistic law practice, a more problem-solving or helping practice area rather than the typical litigation model. Others attribute the growth more to market forces or the complexity of the area of law. Perhaps all of these reasons are true. But in addition, maybe elder law as a field has grown simply because of the satisfying nature of the practice; an elder law attorney truly has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of his or her clients, oftentimes during the final phase of the clients’ lives and many times in a crisis. The elder law attorney has the opportunity to ensure the client has the most quality of life as possible during the last years of his or her life.”