How to Distinguish Yourself From Those Dabbling in Elder Law

*By: Anthony J. Enea, Esq.

In a day and age when attorneys who are unable to distinguish between a "CSRA" and a "MMMNA" are dangerously comfortable in promoting themselves as Elder Law attorneys, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the true Elder Law practitioner to distinguish himself or herself from the "dabbler" in Elder Law. It is not my intention to disparage those attorneys who "dabble" in Elder Law. In many cases said attorneys may be transitioning their practices from one or more areas of law to Elder Law, or Elder Law is a part of their general practice of law. However, I believe that one should avoid actively promoting and marketing himself or herself as an Elder Law attorney, unless he or she has become sufficiently knowledgeable in a significant number of the differing practice areas which constitute Elder Law. Merely knowing the "three year rule" or some other basic planning concept is not enough.

In spite of the above stated, there are a number of steps that the true experienced Elder Law practitioner can and should take to distinguish himself or herself from those less experienced or knowledgeable. The following are illustrative of some of the steps one can take:

1.Promote Your Knowledge and Experience to the Public and

Other Professionals by Writing Articles.

Now that you have paid your dues and acquired a significant body of knowledge in Elder Law, its time to let other attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, insurance agents, geriatric care managers, other professionals and the general public know about it. One of the most effective ways to communicate your expertise is through written articles for publication. Whether you are writing articles for publication in legal periodicals, professional journals, or your local newspaper, you will be communicating your knowledge and expertise in Elder Law to a wide ranging group of professionals and laypersons who can positively impact your practice. The publication of articles in various legal and professional periodicals will also enhance the perception that you are an authority in Elder Law.

Once you have had an article published, you should consider having reprints of the article sent to your existing clients, other professionals and perhaps other publications which may be a potential source of referrals.

1. Prepare and Distribute a Monthly or Quarterly

Newsletter. Over the last decade the use of Newsletters by attorneys and other professionals has dramatically increased. Not a week goes by without my receiving 3 or 4 different newsletters. However, the only ones that truly catch my attention are those that are not the canned mass publication versions but those that are written by the attorney or professional and/or members of his or her firm.

While there are too many poorly written and canned newsletters on the market, there is a school of thought that even the canned newsletter accomplishes the objective of keeping your name in front of other professionals and potential referral sources.

2. Speak at Seminars for Attorneys, Other Professionals and the

General Public. When I first started practicing law, I remember an experienced attorney referring to a fellow attorney colleague as a "lawyers' lawyer". Perhaps one of the most effective ways to develop that reputation is to be recognized as an excellent public speaker. As a result of the Continuing Legal Education requirements for attorneys and certified public accountants, there are ample opportunities to speak at educational seminars. These seminars present an excellent venue to showcase your knowledge and experience first hand to other professionals. They also provide an opportunity to develop lasting professional relationships with your fellow attorneys. One of the most rewarding experiences of my legal career has been the opportunities I have had to speak at and chair various CLE Seminars for the Elder Law Section of the State Bar Association.

Speaking at educational seminars for the general public also provides an excellent opportunity to promote your knowledge and experience.

Presenting educational programs to the general public on various aspects of Elder Law planning also presents an additional opportunity to elevate your stature as an authority. Critical to building your credibility to an audience of laypersons is offering those in attendance as much information as possible. It has been my experience that the general public wants to be educated.

3. Become a National Elder Law Foundation Certified Elder Law

Attorney. The National Elder Law Foundation provides a certification in Elder Law which is accredited by the American Bar Association. Although, the New York State Bar provides that specific disclosure language be utilized when promoting your certification as a Certified Elder Law Attorney ("CELA"), it is still an excellent way to communicate your knowledge and experience.

The Certification process is quite comprehensive and detailed. It involves a written one day exam on numerous areas of Elder Law, as well as disclosure of your work experience in the field of Elder Law for a number of years prior to certification.

For those truly experienced Elder Law practitioners, it is an excellent way of highlighting your credentials.

4. Appear on Radio and TV Programs Addressing Elder Law and

Senior Issues. As the "baby boomers" come of age, the media will need to more frequently address the issues that effect both seniors and the disabled. Whether it be the Terri Schiavo Case or other matters effecting seniors, experienced attorneys will be sought out for their opinions.

Of course, this form of marketing will require that you contact various editors and producers to advise them of your specific Elder Law experience and credentials, as well as your availability. However, even a brief interview on cable news or a simple quote in the local paper can have its rewards.

In conclusion, irrespective of which of the aforestated vehicles you decide to utilize to promote your practice, there still is no substitute for good old fashioned hard work, continuing to try to master your craft as much as possible and providing your clients with the best service possible.