What is Elder Law? Collaboration and Continuum
October 30, 2011
BY Alison Taylor
30 October 2011—What is elder law? In some ways the best way to understand the practice is in terms of what it is not.
First, there is no single distinct statute that impacts on older adults; rather, consideration of how the law affects older people and how laws can be changed to become more responsive implicates criminal law, health legislation, adult guardianship and mental capacity law, pensions, tax policy, wills and estates, and many other areas of law. It is impossible to be a leader in elder law without collaborating and consulting with practitioners from diverse areas of law, within Canada and beyond. It is our relationships that make us stronger.
Second, law reform to improve the lives of older adults requires consideration not only of how the law impacts the older person, but also broader investigation into how the law impacts the adult within her or his community. This research requires attention to the relationships that are important to older adults and the impacts on people who support older adults to live fulfilling lives. Our 2010 study paper on volunteer family caregivers illustrates the far-reaching scope of elder law.
Third, elder law demands considering aging from a life course perspective. The circumstances of older adults reveal the cumulative impact of legislation and policy throughout our lives, along a continuum from birth to advanced age and, inevitably, death. Elder law involves considering how the law affects a person before he or she is aged. Pensions policy and the high rate of poverty amongst older women demonstrate this phenomenon, and our recent concentration on financial literacy reflects this life course approach.
Fourth, elder law is not a purely “legal” focal point. A thorough investigation of an area of law in terms of the experience of older adults is an interdisciplinary exercise. Our volunteer project committees and consultants have included participants from medicine, banking, gerontology, social work and mediation. For example, the current Assisted Living project committee contains a mix of experts on housing, heath care and older adults, and only two committee members are lawyers with a traditional client-based practice. Collectively, this committee provides rich insights into assisted living and community care that would be inaccessible to us through traditional legal research sources alone.
Increasingly the CCEL is creating tools for a sophisticated but non-legal audience, requiring us to work more and more with diverse disciplines. The Counterpoint Project, which involved reviewing elder abuse and neglect jurisprudence to create a series of educational tools for health care and social service practitioners, offered us the opportunity to hear from leaders in nursing, social work and medicine, providing us with new perspectives on law and policy. French and English versions of the Counterpoint Project discussion paper can be downloaded from the CCEL website. The English versions of the Counterpoint print tools are also up on the website and can be downloaded for free. The publication of the French language has been delayed, but we do expect those tools to available by early 2012.
This brings me to an exciting new area of collaboration. The CCEL is working with French speaking stakeholders, making our services increasingly accessible and relevant to Francophone communities. The CCEL is a national organization and so this transition is imperative. CCEL staff lawyers are bilingual. We always appreciate your suggestions for directions to explore in research, writing, education and law reform as they relate to older adults, and we welcome your comments in English and French. A number of recent CCEL publications are available in English and French language versions.
Practice also happens outside the context of specific projects. CCEL staff are members of multiple cross-disciplinary committees and organizations that explore issues that affect older adults, such as the BC Adult Abuse and Neglect Prevention Collaborative, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly. These memberships help us to maintain an awareness of legal issues that impact older adults across Canada and in other countries.
Elder law is both a subject area and an approach to practice. Elder Law is often associated with areas of law such as wills and estates and adult guardianship, but sometimes it may be more helpful to think of elder law as a perspective, a perspective that involves considering the impact of any law on older people. In this respect any area of law can fall into the realm of an elder law practice; for example, analysis of the impact of age-neutral privacy legislation on older consumers can be the work of elder law. Recently the CCEL has been involved in such an exercise, considering the impact of Bill C-12, the Safeguarding Canadian’s Personal Information Act, which amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
We are excited to open our blog with this discussion of the meaning of elder law.