In Support of Our Elders

Nearly 50% of the legal departments that responded to CPBO’s 2010 benchmarking survey provide pro bono legal services to the elderly.  The following highlights a few of the many projects The PBEye has identified, in which in-house counsel have dedicated their time to assist elderly clients in need.

Wills Clinics for the Elderly
Many legal departments participate in clinics that assist with end-of-life planning. Among them, Caterpillar, Inc.** often partners with an outside firm and a legal services provider to host clinics in its headquarters in Peoria, Ill., as well as in Chicago, where attorneys aid the elderly in preparing powers of attorney and living wills. Similarly, Exelon Corporation** and ExxonMobil Corporation, in partnership with Hunton & Williams, LLP*, have each hosted clinics assisting the elderly with estate planning, health care directives, and power of attorney documents.

Consumer Legal Matters
Another way in-house counsel and professionals use their time and talent to help the elderly is through counseling the elderly on consumer legal matters. Members of the legal departments at Accenture, plc**, AT&T, Inc.**, and McDonald’s Corporation** work with the Center for Disability and Elder Law in Chicago (CDEL), providing guidance to clinic participants on property and healthcare questions. More specifically, AT&T participates in CDEL’s Senior Tax Opportunity Program by calling and consulting seniors in danger of losing their homes because of delinquent tax bills.

Pfizer, Inc. ** has taken a similar approach, partnering with the Connecticut Legal Services (CLS) to create the Pfizer/CLS Pro Bono Program, which pairs Pfizer and CLS attorneys and staff to work with clients. Such teams support projects such as CLS’s Consumer Law Project for Elders, in which they counsel low-income elderly clients on how to respond to consumer law issues as well as how to deal with abusive debt-collection practices.

Adopt Broad Service Model
Rather than tackle one issue, several legal departments have taken a broad approach to assisting seniors in need.  For example, the legal department at the Hartford office of Aetna, Inc.** assists the elderly through the Connecticut Lawyers Legal Aid to the Elderly program, on issues such as estate planning, Medicaid, Medicare, landlord-tenant disputes, and Social Security benefits.  Over the years, hundreds of seniors have been helped, many of whom initially called a hotline staffed by Aetna legal assistants year round.

Award-Winning Initiative
A still broader approach was adopted by The Williams Companies, Inc.** and is now sustained with assistance from WPX Energy, Inc.**. Seniors in Tulsa, Okla., in need of estate planning and related services were previously served by a local program, which unfortunately closed down at the same time Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. was stretched thin. Williams responded by reaching out to Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, P.C. to partner on an effort to expand the capacity of services provided by Legal Aid to assist Oklahoma seniors with civil legal problems, including guardian ad litem services and end-of-life planning consultations, as well as medical directives and powers of attorney. While WPX Energy has spun off from Williams, their legal departments continue to work together on this important project.

Many Needs
The list above is merely a sampling of the types of pro bono legal services needed to assist seniors. Whether through direct representation of victims of elder abuse, or more institutional contributions, attorneys play a significant role in upholding a societal honoring of the elderly. The PBEye applauds the great work of many legal departments to provide desperately needed pro bono legal services to the elderly.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

Hat tip to PBI intern Lily Liu for her help on this post.