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Law firm focuses on elder client needs

An elder law practice deals with non-legal issues other firms rarely encounter, says the founder of a seven attorney elder law firm in North Carolina.

Often a client is accompanied by an adult child and confidentiality becomes a concern. Often both spouses are clients and one is incapacitated, opening the door to the question of whether the spouse has the mental capacity to retain a lawyer and execute documents.

And, he says, the attorneys have to recognize that a cognitive impairment does not necessarily mean someone is incapable of making legal decisions. Not everybody who has Alzheimer’s disease should be automatically shut out of a legal conversation.

To accommodate clients, the firm specializes not only in elder law but also in elder marketing and elder service. It follows standards of courtesy and communication and has even designed the office to meet the needs of elderly clients.

Age-friendly surroundings

The accommodation starts at the front door. Most elderly clients are unfamiliar with law offices, so the firm takes steps to make the surroundings and the visit comfortable for them.

When clients walk in, they get a two-part greeting. There’s a video monitor that displays the name of the firm to let them know they are in the right place. And once they sit down, the receptionist gives them a menu of soft drinks and coffees to choose from.

Because many clients use wheelchairs and walkers, there are no steps, and the doorways and halls are extra wide. The furniture is designed for easy use. The sofa is both firm and high so clients can sit down – and get up – with the least amount of effort. And the chairs have solid arms to give people something to hold onto as they move from sitting to standing position.

The pictures and colors are designed to be homelike and give a warm feeling. The rugs have non-slip backings to reduce the risk of slips and trips. And because eyesight fades with age, the lighting in the reception area and the halls is bright so clients can see where they’re going.

Protocols and readable type

There’s emphasis too on recognizing and respecting clients’ physical limitations. For example, the rule is that someone must walk with clients when they go to an office or conference room. And the protocol is to walk alongside the client, no matter how slow the journey. The natural inclination is to proceed to the room and wait for that person to catch up. But to the client, that’s an indication of impatience.

The office also follows a rule of always being ready to help clients in and out of chairs – but only if they ask for assistance. Unsolicited assistance can be demeaning.

In addition, both attorneys and staff make an effort to speak clearly and loudly enough to accommodate any hearing difficulties a client may have.

The documents too are designed to accommodate elderly clients. Anticipating the visual problems that often accompany aging, the firm prints everything in large type, with the text 12-point or larger and the headings in 14-point type. The type is also bolder than usual, and to create a readable contrast, the paper is always white.

Caregiver service information

And businesswise, the firm goes beyond accommodating its clients’ legal needs. It maintains contact with the caregiver services in the area.

People come to the office not understanding how the elder care journey progresses, so the firm provides information on what people need to know as they age. It has information on retirement communities and home health and hospice organizations in the area and shows clients how to select assisted living and nursing home facilities.

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