Grant Will Allow 1,000+ Additional Cases
In 1980, the idea of Elder Law as a separate legal specialty was just beginning to gain traction, and the 5 year old University Legal Assistance program at Gonzaga Law launched a new Elder Law Clinic. 31 years and thousands of cases later, clinic director Larry Weiser has just received word that the funding grant that operates the Elder Law Clinic will be both increased and extended for an additional 4 years, with $91,390 of funding for each of the 4 years through 2017.
A Service to Older Americans
The Older Americans Act, passed in 1965 and reauthorized in 2006, established a wide variety of supportive services for senior citizens. Today, the OAA is a service network that coordinates through 56 State agencies on aging, 629 area agencies on aging, nearly 20,000 service providers, 244 Tribal organizations, and 2 Native Hawaiian organizations representing 400 Tribes. In this network, there are less than 10 dedicated Elder Law services like the one at Gonzaga Law.
“The Elder Law clinic is unique in that many of the cases cross over to a variety of practice areas,” explains Weiser. “Most of the cases we take are individuals that are just having a difficult time, and we can offer a helping hand. It is a unique chance to make a real impact in the community.”
A New View On Legal Practice
The Clinic handles a wide variety of legal questions, including housing, consumer fraud, elder abuse, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, Medicaid, age discrimination, pensions, nursing homes, protective services, conservatorships, and more. Each year, the 24-30 students and one paralegal take on around 250 cases, and offer advice to another 400-500 clients.
“The combination of law students and the elderly is good. Clients really get the extensive time from students needed to understand the cases. For students that may not have interacted with the elderly outside of their grandparents, the experience is incredibly valuable.”
Seeing the Real-World Impact
For students, the opportunity to work with elderly clients has proven an experience that is both valuable and life-changing. One student that was asked to assist with a last will and testament described the experience this way:
“I have learned about recognizing competence to make a will from a textbook and a professor, but it just is not the same as seeing it in person. It is not an exercise in reading comprehension or test-taking skills. It is looking into a person’s eyes, watching the wheels turn in their mind, listening to every slurred word, and taking note of every bit of body language.
“Going through this myself was simply profound. It was a very eerie, very surreal thing to experience, and as overblown as it might sound, I probably will not forget it. I watched [my client] struggle through pain and confusion and at the end of it all, I had to decide whether another human was capable of making serious and impactful decisions about their own lives. It was just eye opening, if nothing else. Here, I was given a very hard and clear example of how practicing law in the real world differed from learning law in the classroom.”
Getting Assistance From The Elder Law Clinic
Low-income individuals that are 60 years of age and older may apply directly to the Clinic for assistance by calling 509-313-5791. Any other cases handled by ULA are referrals from the Northwest Justice Project’s Coordinated Legal Education, Advice, and Referral CLEAR Service, which provides online applications or can be called at 888-201-1014.