Last month we wrote about making your practice Millennial-friendly. But don’t start believing we’re living in a world of the young. The U.S. population is aging. The number of Americans over 65 is already around 50 million. And that number could double by 2060, making elderly people about 24% of the total population.
By 2035, it’s predicted that the U.S. will have more people over 65 than under 18. More elderly people than children.
This news shows that we’re living longer, healthier lives. But it also carries its own challenges, as our culture adjusts to new demographics. It’s predicted that the number of people in nursing homes will increase by 75% by 2030. And by 2050 Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease could triple to 14 million.
As we live longer, our culture must change. We must incorporate more respect, care, and services for the elderly.
For attorneys, this means Elder Law is moving from niche practice to general need. Whatever your practice area, you should have a general literacy when it comes to engaging with elderly clients. They’re going to be a fourth of the population, after all. And there are additional benefits to firms who place a greater focus on the needs of elderly clients, who will be able to grow their practice while serving their community.
What Does Elder Law Look Like?
You may remember our podcast episode from a few months back with Laura Milliken Gray, an Estate Planning attorney working out of Salt Lake City, UT. But Elder Law as a whole involves much more than wills and testaments.
The area of Elder Law isn’t really defined by the practice area. It’s defined by the clientele. Any attorney could benefit from better serving seniors. But there are several areas that are particularly relevant to elderly clients. These are:
- Health care and long-term care planning — including Medicare and disability benefits, patient rights, medical care directives, and power of attorney issues in health.
- Financial planning — retirement, estate planning, drafting of wills, Social Security, financial power of attorney creation, housing issues, estate, and gift tax questions.
- Protecting against elder abuse, neglect, and fraud.
- Guardianship issues — selecting and appointing good legal guardians.
Medical malpractice, mass tort, and class action attorneys are also likely to see more cases directly related to seniors.
Even business and corporate attorneys should expand their understanding of older clients. They will be called in to help the aging heads of companies to plan for succession. Not only are retirement ages increasing, but this is also the time of the ‘olderpreneur.’ People are forming successful businesses later in life — and their financial concerns will likely be different from those of the 20-something wunderkind.
13 Steps to Expanding Into Elder Care
1. Educate Yourself — Look into elder care certification programs and CLE resources. Learn new skills and sharpen old ones. In addition, you can network with others in the field and use your certification to demonstrate expertise to potential clients. Some certification programs come with benefits like referral networks.
2. Befriend Elderly People — If you don’t engage with elderly people regularly, you’re liable to market to your stereotype of who the ‘old folks’ are, instead of actual humans. Spend some time with seniors in your community — not to sell them legal services, but to do away with your preconceived notions and deepen your understanding of their needs.
3. Network with Other Professionals — Others who work with elders often need to help them find legal services. Some of these professionals include doctors, CPAs, financial planners, geriatric care managers, real estate agents, brokerage advisers, and bankers. Network at others’ professional events. Connect with local nursing homes and long-term care facilities, so when legal issues arise among their clientele (such as the need for a living will), they can help them find you.
4. Keep Up With Previous Clients — Keeping clients is far less expensive than finding new ones. Maintain contact with your clients and their families for the long term. Send them regular newsletters, full of helpful information. Remember special dates. Cross-sell services your firm provides. And ask them for referrals without sounding like a salesman.
5. Demonstrate Your Expertise (in Writing) — Write well-researched articles on the issues that affect elders in your community. Pitch these to respectable publications. When they’re published, print them out so you can give them to potential clients. Blog about these issues and contribute to local news articles about them.
6. Demonstrate Your Expertise (in Person) — Provide free community events where people can learn about pressing legal needs for elderly people and their loved ones. Consider ways to make it fun, providing food or snacks or even partnering with a group of musicians. Go on local radio shows to discuss these issues.
7. Serve Your Community — Serve on committees or community organizations dedicated to improving the lives of the elderly.
8. Offer Home Visits — Many elderly clients find it difficult or impossible to travel. Home visits — or visits to hospitals or care facilities — make them and their families feel cared for and appreciated. If you can’t do home visits, consider offering free rideshare services, particularly for clients who have lost their license or don’t like to drive.
9. Have a Senior-Friendly Office — Make sure your office is not only wheelchair accessible but accommodating to people with other disabilities as well, such as hearing impairment.
10. Represent Seniors in Marketing Materials — On your website, social media, or print media, show some grey hair. This helps signify your target clientele before you even say a word about it.
11. Market in Print Media — Elderly people are often comfortable with the internet and social media. But they also pay attention to more traditional forms of advertising, such as newsletters and weekly local newspapers. Also, consider bulletins for local churches and synagogues.
12. Market to the Whole Family — Remember you’re not simply targeting seniors, but also their children and loved ones. Have a strong SEO strategy, and have elder law keywords in your ‘Google My Business’ listing.
13. Learn the Skills of Empathy — Most importantly, lead with empathy. Develop emotional literacy to help you talk about sensitive issues. Display your concern for others without slipping into pity or condescension. To expand into elder law, you must become comfortable talking about some of life’s biggest, hardest questions. If your clients don’t fully confide in you, they probably won’t be satisfied with the service you provide.
As one attorney put it:
“[I] also know that the service I provide is not dependent on the technological methodology of how I accomplish a goal – it’s still based on assisting people to achieve their goals – counseling them, giving them a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, logical, dispassionate analyses and solutions. That’s what it’s really all about as far as I’m concerned.”
Elder law is more than a lucrative practice area. It’s also an opportunity to connect with people, learn new skills, and perhaps even dramatically improve the last years of a person’s life.