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Pathways Help Students Explore Areas of Interest

May 3, 2017: As the aging population spirals and people live longer, the importance of legal services for senior citizens becomes ever clearer. New England Law | Boston’s newest Pathway program, Elder Law, combines a necessary financial focus with course selections that take into consideration older clients’ physical and mental well-being, as well as their employment status.

An Elder Law practice can be very diverse. Elder law attorneys help elders and their families prepare for crises associated with aging and, when they occur, help them select the best way to carry out difficult transitions.

“This area of law will undoubtedly continue to grow in importance,” said Professor Ilene Klein, who teaches Law and the Elderly, supervises students under SJC Rule 3:03 in New England Law’s in-house civil litigation clinic, and teaches seminars in the clinical program. Professor Klein co-authored Massachusetts Elder Law and has worked in the field in Massachusetts and West Virginia.

“Students who are interested in Public Service Law have many opportunities to put their legal skills to good use helping elderly clients and their families deal with what can be very challenging situations, and the Elder Law Pathway introduces the topics that come up most frequently,” said Klein.

A Fascinating, Vitally-Important Field

“Elder Law is how to make sure that your wishes get carried out,” said Amanda Fernandez ’17. Fernandez hadn’t heard of Elder Law prior to law school but now plans to practice it.

She discovered the field through her interest in Family Law, which was stimulated after completing New England Law’s Summer Fellowship Program as a judicial intern in Bronx County (N.Y.) Family Court, and through a clinical position with the Massachusetts Human Resources Division. She subsequently took the law school’s Family Law course, which introduced Elder Law concepts and prompted her to take Professor Klein’s Law and the Elderly course.

“I was fascinated to learn that most elders live alone or in nursing home facilities, about the process of guardianship and/or conservatorship, and about elders’ financial dependence on federal government funding such as Medicaid and Social Security,” said Hernandez. “Professor Klein helped me to arrange a Family Law Clinic internship with Spano and Dawicki LLC in Saugus, Mass., through which I have learned more about Elder Law and estate planning.”

Pathways foster exploration of legal interests

Pathways is an online program that helps students to explore various areas of legal practice and select courses that will give them the skills and expertise needed to practice in that area. The Elder Law Pathway’s courses and resources, along with advice from Professor Klein and other experienced faculty, help law students to pursue law career paths after graduation.

Students can choose from courses that are pertinent to clients’ fiscal needs, such as Accounting for Lawyers; Personal Income Tax; and Wills, Estates, and Trusts; and courses that address elders’ health status, including Hospital Law and Mental Health Law. Other courses, such as Disability Law and Employment Law, address issues that can accompany an older person’s working career.

The Health Law and the Public Interest Law clinics allow students to put their Elder Law classroom learning into practice by enabling them to provide legal advice in real-world settings. Clinics also can help students prepare for the bar examination while boosting their résumés and networking efforts.

Professor Davalene Cooper coordinates the Pathways program, which now features 17 different legal fields. “The combination of an aging population, the availability of jobs, and student interest clearly made Elder Law a good addition,” said Cooper.

Pathways was developed by New England Law’s sister school in the Consortium for Innovative Legal Education—Mitchell Hamline School of Law—and has been adapted for use with Mitchell Hamline’s permission. Other New England Law Pathways include Business Law; Civil Litigation; Commercial Law; Compliance; Criminal Law; Education Law; Environmental Law; Family Law; Immigration Law; Intellectual Property; International Law; Public Interest Law; Real Estate; Solo Practice; Tax Law; and Trusts and Estates.

“A little bit of everything” is part of the attraction

“Elder Law consists of Family Law, Real Estate Law, advance planning, and healthcare issues,” said Fernandez, who notes that it encompasses both federal and state laws. “You have to deal with a little bit of everything and that definitely appeals to me.

“New England Law | Boston’s clinics and courses allowed me to discover an area within the legal profession that I am passionate about. Today, when people ask me which area of law I intend to pursue I proudly tell them it is Elder Law, and I’m always pleased to explain what this field entails.”

Elder Law Pathway

Professor Ilene Klein