ILNews

Elder law attorney started as paralegal for ILS

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share


Today it's a growing practice area, but three decades ago, only a handful of attorneys practiced what is now known as elder law and not many more were aware of what it was.

Even so, the legal practice area that addresses the specific needs of older adults had started to come of age in legal communities around the country. In Indiana, since the early 1980s a handful of attorneys have continued to write and revise a booklet for individuals most likely to have those needs or know someone who does.

The most recent edition of "Indiana Laws of Aging," which is supported by and available from the Indiana State Bar Association and Indiana Bar Foundation, was released in November.

The book covers a wide array of issues, including Social Security and veterans' benefits, long-term health care needs, housing issues, estate planning and wills, elder abuse, age discrimination, consumer protection, grandparents' rights, and programs available to support older adults and their caregivers.

The 120-page booklet is distributed through various community organizations that work with elderly adults at no charge to the organizations or those who receive it.

An attorney who has worked on the booklet since its first edition, published in April 1982, is Claire Lewis, who has given countless hours to the project and has grown professionally in that time as well.

When asked to talk about her work with the booklet, she was quick to thank everyone who helped - attorneys from around the state, as well as paralegals and staff of the bar association who keep the contact information updated for the organizations listed in the booklet.

First edition


Lewis was a law school student at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis and a paralegal for Indiana Legal Services' newly formed Senior Law Project in the early 1980s when she helped the late professor Mary Harter Mitchell on the first edition.

During Lewis' final year at the law school, Mitchell was teaching the school's first elder law course and asked Lewis for her help, knowing of Lewis' involvement with the ILS program in that area.

Mitchell admitted to the class early on that she didn't know much about the practice area, Lewis said, but she was eager to learn more about it and would sometimes ask Lewis for her help.

Looking back, Lewis said she felt lucky that she had the opportunity to meet Mitchell and work with her for so many years. Mitchell died unexpectedly in late 2009; Lewis said it was a great loss to the legal community and that she also lost a very good friend.

But maybe it wasn't all luck that she got involved with elder law - Lewis said she always had a passion for helping older adults, which is how she landed the job at ILS working closely with Indianapolis attorney Dennis Frick. Frick has also continuously worked on editions of the booklet, including the latest one, and is the current director of the ILS Senior Law Project.

Lewis said the job opportunity to be a paralegal came at a time when she already knew she wanted to go to law school and already had experience working for not-for-profit organizations.

She applied for the position partly because of her fond memories of growing up with her grandmother in her house, and a desire to help people.

"We had so much fun," she said of her grandmother. "I could listen to her stories for hours."

"I was just so comfortable with that generation and thought they were such a special generation," she added.

While she said she understands not all individuals have the experience of growing up so close to their grandparents, she felt the experience was invaluable. For her children, now in their 20s, when they were younger she would bring them along when she would meet with her elderly clients so they too would appreciate older adults.

Because of her feelings about older adults, and her experience as a paralegal for ILS, she said she knew all through law school she wanted to stay on with ILS as an attorney if they would have her.

They did, and she stayed with ILS' Senior Law Project for about 20 years before starting a solo practice in Indianapolis about 10 years ago working mostly with elder law issues, but also estate planning and other legal needs of clients of all ages.

Balancing act


As far as balancing her practice, her family, and her work on the booklet, which she has headed since the mid 1990s when Mitchell handed her the reins, Lewis said it's not always easy, but she puts her family first and everything else ultimately gets done on time.

"If you're passionate about something, it makes it a lot easier," she said. "I'm truly committed to the work I do with older adults. ... I have clients in their 80s and 90s. They're my heroes. My clients have run the beaches in Normandy and were in Okinawa in World War II. I found out one of my clients was part of the rescue force that rescued the prisoners in the Philippines, including my parents."

Lewis' parents and two older brothers were prisoners of war in the Philippines in WWII. During a conversation with a client, she realized their connection and told him that he might have met her parents during his mission many decades ago.

She has also seen the benefits of the booklet firsthand.

"I had clients who were in here the other day, who are the children of older clients of mine," she said. "Their parents got a copy of this book, and they started flipping through it and got to the section on the powers of attorney. They said, 'We didn't know we needed this stuff too.' It was so nice for them, by way of their parents, to learn how important it is to do good planning for people of any age."

She has also heard from caregivers of older parents and others who work with older adults on a regular basis how the booklet has helped them with specific issues.

For other elder law attorneys in Indiana, the booklet is widely respected, said Lewis' former boss and executive director of ILS, Norman Metzger.

"The book has really become the standard, almost a legal authority on elder law itself in the state of Indiana," he said. "From the very beginning, we were involved in that and Claire was instrumental in putting it together."

He added that her initial involvement in elder law with ILS "was all being done at a time when this kind of practice was embryonic. I'm not saying our senior project was on the cutting edge; it was more like a movement around the country."

ILS has also offered CLE courses on elder law through Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum that have been standing-room only the last few years, he said. Lewis and other attorneys who've worked with ILS have been involved with that.

"One of her strengths is her ability to teach and communicate," he said. "...it's highly acclaimed, highly anticipated by private lawyers. ... She is just outstanding at what she does."

Looking back, Lewis said she has no regrets and feels fortunate to continue to practice in an area she has always loved.

"I think it was a natural fit for me and I think I was in the right place at the right time," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. File under the Sociology of Hoosier Discipline ... “We will be answering the complaint in due course and defending against the commission’s allegations,” said Indianapolis attorney Don Lundberg, who’s representing Hudson in her disciplinary case. FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW ... Lundberg ran the statist attorney disciplinary machinery in Indy for decades, and is now the "go to guy" for those who can afford him .... the ultimate insider for the well-to-do and/or connected who find themselves in the crosshairs. It would appear that this former prosecutor knows how the game is played in Circle City ... and is sacrificing accordingly. See more on that here ... http://www.theindianalawyer.com/supreme-court-reprimands-attorney-for-falsifying-hours-worked/PARAMS/article/43757 Legal sociologists could have a field day here ... I wonder why such things are never studied? Is a sacrifice to the well connected former regulators a de facto bribe? Such questions, if probed, could bring about a more just world, a more equal playing field, less Stalinist governance. All of the things that our preambles tell us to value could be advanced if only sunshine reached into such dark worlds. As a great jurist once wrote: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." Other People's Money—and How Bankers Use It (1914). Ah, but I am certifiable, according to the Indiana authorities, according to the ISC it can be read, for believing such trite things and for advancing such unwanted thoughts. As a great albeit fictional and broken resistance leaders once wrote: "I am the dead." Winston Smith Let us all be dead to the idea of maintaining a patently unjust legal order.

  2. The Department of Education still has over $100 million of ITT Education Services money in the form of $100+ million Letters of Credit. That money was supposed to be used by The DOE to help students. The DOE did nothing to help students. The DOE essentially stole the money from ITT Tech and still has the money. The trustee should be going after the DOE to get the money back for people who are owed that money, including shareholders.

  3. Do you know who the sponsor of the last-minute amendment was?

  4. Law firms of over 50 don't deliver good value, thats what this survey really tells you. Anybody that has seen what they bill for compared to what they deliver knows that already, however.

  5. My husband left me and the kids for 2 years, i did everything humanly possible to get him back i prayed i even fasted nothing worked out. i was so diver-stated, i was left with nothing no money to pay for kids up keep. my life was tearing apart. i head that he was trying to get married to another lady in Italy, i look for urgent help then i found Dr.Mack in the internet by accident, i was skeptical because i don’t really believe he can bring husband back because its too long we have contacted each other, we only comment on each other status on Facebook and when ever he come online he has never talks anything about coming back to me, i really had to give Dr.Mack a chance to help me out, luckily for me he was God sent and has made everything like a dream to me, Dr.Mack told me that everything will be fine, i called him and he assured me that my Husband will return, i was having so many doubt but now i am happy,i can’t believe it my husband broke up with his Italian lady and he is now back to me and he can’t even stay a minute without me, all he said to me was that he want me back, i am really happy and i cried so much because it was unbelievable, i am really happy and my entire family are happy for me but they never know whats the secret behind this…i want you all divorce lady or single mother, unhappy relationship to please contact this man for help and everything will be fine i really guarantee you….if you want to contact him you can reach him through dr.mac@yahoo. com..,

ADVERTISEMENT