D.C. Bar’s First Aging in D.C. Legal Institute: A Recap

By John Murph

October 2, 2018

On September 20, over 100 people attended the D.C. Bar CLE Program’s inaugural Aging in D.C. Legal Institute, which tackled a broad range of topics impacting seniors in the District of Columbia. 

Moderated by AARP Regional Vice President Rawle Andrews Jr., the day-long event featured experts from organizations such as the Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), the D.C. Office on Aging, the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, and the Elder & Disability Law Center. 

“Ten thousand Americans turn 65 each day,” Andrews said, noting that the oldest members of Generation X are now 52, and by the end of this decade, the oldest of the Millennials will be 40. “But are we prepared?” 

D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin / Patrice Gilbert PhotographyIn his introductory remarks, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin reiterated Andrews’ sentiments about the aging population in the United States and spoke about how the Superior Court’s Probate Division is expanding its work to address elder abuse and estate planning. The Probate Division currently handles 3,000 guardianship cases, Morin said. 

“We have a guardianship assistance program made up of social workers who report to court every six months; we also hold a number of emergency hearings — about 100 a year,” Morin said. “The nature of some of these cases can last for years or even decades. That’s why it’s a division that’s ever growing.” 

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine / Patrice Gilbert PhotographyD.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, in his keynote address, said elder care is a “new, pronounced priority” of the Office of the Attorney General. “[We play] a role in monitoring the work of nurses at assisted-living facilities. We also play a role in consumer protection and bringing fraudsters to account.”  

Throughout the program, attendees received updated knowledge of various statistics, laws, and best practices involving serving Washington, D.C.’s senior population.  

Laura Newland, executive director of the D.C. Office on Aging; Charles Sabatino, director of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging; and Joanne Savage, senior staff attorney at LCE, offered tips on creating an age-friendly law office. Some of their suggestions included making office passageways at least three feet wide, avoiding hard-to-read signage, and having comfortable seating. 

“Aging is living. That is something as a community that we have to grapple with. The older the clients are, the more we have to ask ourselves, ‘What more do I have to provide outside of my strict legal responsibility as a lawyer?’” Newland said. 

Newland also discussed effective verbal communication strategies such as maintaining eye contact, avoiding unnecessary legal jargon, and talking at a measured pace, as well as using larger fonts, breaking up large paragraphs, and using bullet points to highlight key ideas in written communications to clients.  

Recognizing signs of elder abuse and combating financial exploitation of the elderly were two of the main topics at the Institute. During a morning plenary session, Amy Mix, supervising attorney for LCE, said that with the passage of the Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults and the Elderly Amendment Act of 2016, D.C. became “the first in the nation to really criminalize financial exploitation committed using undue influence.” 

“We’ve been a shining beacon and talking nationally about this,” Mix said.  

Mix offered statistics that counter the prevailing narrative about the District being a young city, occupied by financially secured professionals. “Oftentimes [our] senior population is less thought about by the general [D.C.] population,” she said.  

According to Mix, 70,568 D.C. residents are 65 or older, or about 10 percent of the District’s population. “We have the nation’s largest ratio of LGBT seniors. More [of our seniors] live alone than the national average, but home ownership [among seniors] is lower than the national average. And we have the highest poverty rate for seniors in the nation,” Mix said. 

While financial exploitation is the most reported form of elder abuse, Mix said it’s important to recognize and fight other forms of abuse. “About one in 10 seniors are victims of physical abuse nationally,” Mix noted. “People are probably more willing to disclose financial abuse. It’s much more comfortable to talk about than sexual abuse. When someone is disclosing that there may be some shenanigans [happening] with their money, it could just be the tip of the iceberg.” 

After the Institute concluded with breakout sessions on preparing for incapacity and addressing dementia, Thomas Campbell, one of the attendees, applauded the D.C. Bar for hosting such an informative conference. 

“The panelists were excellent because they gave a lot of in-depth information,” he said. “I’m taking the program with all the different information and putting it in a loose-leaf notebook to use as a reference. All of this is going to help me be a better lawyer.”



WATCH: Chief Judge Robert E. Morin's Introductory Remarks


WATCH: DC Attorney General Karl Racine's Keynote Address