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American Bar Association
Commission on Law and Aging


What is the ABA Commission on Law and Aging?

The Commission on Law and Aging (Commission) is an entity of the American Bar Association (ABA), which is the national representative of the legal profession and the world's largest professional association. The Commission's goal is to examine and respond to law-related needs of older persons in the United States through policy development, education, and the provision of technical assistance. The Commission does not provide direct legal services or make referrals to private lawyers. The Commission can, however, help connect you with the free legal services/legal aid program serving older persons in the area in which you live.

The Commission is composed of fifteen members who are appointed annually by the ABA President. Commission members include ABA members and non-lawyer experts in aging issues, such as physicians, social workers, advocates, public officials, and gerontologists. The Commission is staffed by a director and six lawyers with an average of 19 years experience in the field of law and aging.

Since its creation in 1978, the Commission has examined substantive areas of law as well as issues concerning the delivery of legal services to older persons. Topics have included:

  • Age Discrimination
  • Court-Related Needs of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities
  • Delivery of Legal Services to Older Persons by Public and Private Lawyers
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Elder Abuse
  • Ethical Issues
  • Guardianship and Surrogate Decisionmaking
  • Health and Long-Term Care
  • Health Maintenance Organizations
  • Housing and Home Equity Conversion
  • Medicare
  • Planning for Incapacity
  • Public Benefits
  • Social Security

What is the Commission's Background in Elder Abuse?

Recommended Guidelines for State Courts Handling Cases Involving Elder Abuse

Throughout its history, the Commission has focused many of its efforts on strengthening the due process rights of older persons and persons with disabilities and on enhancing the responsiveness of the judicial system to those persons. In 1993, the receipt of a grant from the State Justice Institute (SJI) enabled the Commission to conduct a groundbreaking project on elder abuse that furthered those efforts to assist in meeting the legal needs of older persons who have been abused, neglected, or exploited.

The project resulted in the development of twenty-nine recommendations that were published in a book titled Recommended Guidelines for State Courts Handling Cases Involving Elder Abuse (ABA 1995). The recommendations were intended to aid the courts in:

  • Providing appropriate judicial solutions that respect the values and wishes of elder abuse victims while protecting their welfare
  • Easing access of appropriate cases to the court system
  • Enhancing coordination among the court system, state and local agencies, and the aging network.

The ABA House of Delegates adopted the recommendations as Association policy in 1996.

The project used a two-pronged approach to gather the information necessary to develop these recommended guidelines. Project staff established a baseline of knowledge by examining existing practices and procedures through analysis of civil and criminal statutes pertaining to elder abuse; research of case law; and review of the legal and social science literature. At the same time, using the Delphi research methodology and a series of nine focus groups, the project developed a vision for the future of the courts' involvement in these types of cases. This was accomplished by tapping the expertise of close to three hundred individuals of diverse backgrounds: judges, court administrators, lawyers, prosecutors, attorneys general, adult protective services workers and administrators, aging services providers, health care professionals, researchers in the field of elder abuse, law enforcement officers, public guardians, state and local long term care ombudsmen, advocates for older persons, state legal services developers, law school professors, victim/witness advocates, and others.

Elder Abuse in the State Courts: Three Curricula for Judges and Court Staff

In 1996, the State Justice Institute funded the Commission and the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) to develop three model interdisciplinary curricula on elder abuse for judges and for key court staff. This project sought to implement the first recommendation of the Commission's Recommended Guidelines project (discussed above), which called for training judges and court staff about elder abuse. Working together, the Commission and NAWJ developed curricula that will: (1) heighten the sensitivity and knowledge of judges and court staff about the dynamics, capacity issues, laws, and programs relating to elder abuse; (2) strengthen the ability of the judicial system to follow the other guidelines recommended by the ABA in the previous SJI-funded project; and (3) expand the awareness of judges who hear family violence cases and/or participate in family violence coordinating councils about elder abuse as part of the continuum of family violence. The curricula were published as Elder Abuse in the State Courts: Three Curricula for Judges and Court Staff (ABA 1997).

The curricula can be used by state judicial educators and other program planners to develop: (1) a general seminar of up to six hours for judges, (2) a specialized seminar of up to three hours for judges serving on family violence coordinating councils or hearing family violence cases, and (3) a general seminar of up to three hours for court staff. All three curricula were successfully pilot tested pursuant to the SJI grant. In addition, the general curriculum for judges has been used in the states of Florida and Washington and at the 1998 NAWJ annual conference.

Provision of Technical Assistance and Training

For more than five years, Commission staff has been researching, analyzing and providing technical assistance about state laws and policies on elder abuse and adult protective services. Commission staff has also conducted numerous educational presentations on these subjects to audiences of many different disciplines at national, regional, state, and local conferences.

What is the Commission's Role in the National Center on Elder Abuse?

The Commission is responsible for the following tasks:

  • administering the NCEA listserve
  • compiling information from the listserve messages for purposes of developing the "directory of expertise," gathering suggestions from the field for the research agenda, and producing reports, technical assistance manuals, and articles
  • researching and analyzing state and federal laws pertaining to elder abuse and the delivery of adult protective services
  • providing technical assistance and training and contributing to NCEA publications on the status of state laws and relevant legal issues
  • developing and enhancing relationships with national law enforcement and other law-related organizations.

How Can I Get More Information or Order Publications?

Information about obtaining the Commission's publications on elder abuse is provided in the NCEA publications list. For information about the Commission's other initiatives and publications, contact:

Commission on Law and Aging
American Bar Association

740 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005

Telephone: (202) 662-8690
FAX: (202) 662-8698
E-mail: abaelderly@abanet.org

Website: www.abanet.org/elderly

Last Updated: April 27, 2004  Top


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