Questions to Ask When Choosing an Attorney
The practice of special needs and elder law is unique. It is not exclusive to a specific substantive area of law, such as bankruptcy. Rather, a reputable special needs and elder law attorney is proficient in several substantive areas that may affect an entire demographic segment that comprise our clients: the disabled and elderly. What this means is that it is necessary to hold attorneys to a higher standard when they represent such vulnerable sectors of the population. Choosing a capable attorney to assist you, then, is a tall order.
Simple situations can rapidly turn into complicated and expensive conundrums without good advice. That’s where a special needs and elder law attorney can help in evaluating the client’s needs relating to federal and state tax, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and property laws. Many attorneys prepare wills and trusts on a daily basis and add these practice areas because it is perceived as a “hot area” to build business, but only a few actually understand the Medicare and Medicaid systems and how to plan for long-term care.
The circle of attorneys who practice special needs and elder law in any community is usually pretty small due to its complexity and commitment of resources to monitoring complex government programs. The following questions will help locate an attorney skilled in special needs and elder law. The firm of Northwoods Law Group meets or exceeds each of these requirements.1. How Long Have You Been in Practice?
10 years’ experience or more preferred (less experience okay if the attorney is supported within the firm by more experienced practitioners).2. When Did You Add Special Needs and Elder Law to Your Practice?
10 years’ experience or more preferred (less experience okay if the attorney is supported within the firm by more experienced practitioners).3. Does Your Firm Actively Process Medical Assistance Applications?
The only way to understand how Medical Assistance really works is to regularly process applications for benefits. Counties have divergent practices. Firms that have a dedicated paralegal or social worker on staff and process 5-7 applications or more per month are more likely to understand the system. If the attorney is filing the applications, however, watch out!4. What Percentage of Your Practice Is Devoted to Special Needs/Elder Law?
These are very complicated programs that have a high learning curve and one cannot “dabble” in these practice areas.5. Are You a Member of Any Relevant Organizations?
Attorneys show commitment to an area of law by the organizations they join and serve: National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys; Elder Law Section of State Bar; Elderlaw Answers; Special Needs Alliance; Local and National Disability Organizations.6. Do You Educate Others About Special Needs/Elder Law Issues?
The way to know the law and to stay up with changes is to teach it. Look for an attorney that teaches the technical aspects of special needs and elder law for their county and state bar association and professional and private organizations.7. Have You Been Recognized or Honored by Your Peers in This Area of Practice?
 This information is a compilation from numerous sources, including: American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging; National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys; Lawyers.com; Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook; AgingOptions; and others.