I often hear presentations about Websites For Attorneys and worry that my site needs some time and attention that I've not had to give. When I started my blog, I heard the same advice from lots of sources: "You've got to keep it current if you start one." Well, that's technically not true. Mine hasn't gone away even though I've not made the time to post on a regular basis. My goal is to bridge the gap from information from the start of my practice to my life and practice now.
I consider myself fortunate to have only good problems. I know this because when I answer the question, How's it going? people often respond by saying That's a good problem to have! Here is the top list of my favorite problems and how that might relate to you if you are reading this blog about my law practice.
1. My elder law practice is so busy that I'm often working six days a week to keep up! I've hired Carole, a paralegal extraordinaire, who has 20+ years of experience and a similar heart as mine to help seniors and their families with practical, meaningful, and affordable solutions for their problems. Ninety percent of my business is word-of-mouth and at least ten percent of people find my website on their own and decide to call me. I welcome new clients with a feeling of privilege and curiosity about the reasons why they are inviting me into their lives. There is a trend. It relates to my passion to practice law like a social worker. I have lots of opportunities to share my empathy, skills, and lessons learned with families who have such issues as mental illness, substance issues, serious medical problems with too few resources, or grief that is so deep and profound that it fills the close space between my chair and theirs. My enjoyment working with these types of problems sounds weird to my colleagues who tell me they couldn't handle the emotional toll that comes from practicing this type of law. But for me, a woman who has had to learn first-hand the importance of good boundaries and the mutual blessing that comes from being with others on their road, my client's problems are good for me since I can often help. Even if it is only choosing the best alternatives from a list of not-so-good options. Helping others, especially in today's climate, is surprising, delightful, and joyful.
2. My family is healthy, evolving, and exhilarating! I hung my blue star flag in front of my office for eight months that ended in March of this year. This picture was taken just before deployment. See my short hair? It isn't short anymore. I didn't really plan long hair any more than I planned for the lessons I've learned about becoming a member of the military family that has a long, rich, and diverse history. Simper Gumby! Junior year of high school was difficult 30+ years ago. It's even tougher now. Thinking about and planning for retirement someday provides an up-close-and-personal perspective that makes it even easier for me to relate to my clients. When clients come to my office, I draw a genogram of their family and all natural supports that contribute to their lives. I believe in an individual/family-centered approach in my work. My family has taught me the importance of focusing on the important things. Clients often leave my initial consultation telling me that it was one of the more important conversations they have ever had. That's one reason I charge for my consultations. Clients receive a benefit. And if they don't need me to do anything for them, I send them on their way without selling them anything.
3. Downtown Cary is a great place to have an office! A couple of years ago, Academy Street was a mess. Some of my clients complained. Now, downtown is really coming into its own with the new park and cool water fountain, 2-story regional library starting construction, and living accommodations being imagined and built for many years to come. Like my family, the downtown community is transforming into something it’s never been before. I enjoy my volunteer work with the Heart of Cary Association, Inc. HoCA is a nonprofit organization made up of residents, non-profits, and business folks dedicated to Downtown Cary. I enjoy the opportunity to see clients walking downtown, getting involved in the various events, and building relationships with their new neighbors. Establishing and nurturing roots in a community is not only satisfying in the present, but can be one of the most important aspects of my clients' long-term care plans that we discuss during our work together. Our conversations and planning can be much different for my clients who have become "elder-orphans" (no children or blood-relatives close by) than it is with clients who have six children and/or a loving community that supports them already. It is scary to think about long-term care and how to pay for it should you lose some ability to act independently. Meeting with clients in my red-brick office home that has plenty of parking and is easy to get in and out of is an added bonus for my clients. Even when I find clients hanging out at the fountain or eating at Ashworth Drugs lunch counter, I pretend that I don't know them. Attorney-client confidentiality is an important aspect of what I do. Having difficult, but confidential conversations with clients in a comfortable and respectful setting seems to make a big difference for my clients who find me. Being the last person to help clients make their final plans is an awesome responsibility that I never take lightly.
4. There is a real need and market for the type of legal work I provide. I sometimes jokingly say that the majority of my clients don't have a wealth manager. However, my clients' wealth is just as important as those who have a professional helping them manage their assets. Consequently, many of my clients do not need a trust. We always discuss trusts, but I only recommend them when needed for specific purposes. In my opinion, avoiding probate in North Carolina isn't typically a good enough reason to have a trust versus a simple will.
Since you've read this far, you must be pretty serious about the kinds of services I provide. So here is the scoop about my work with others:
A. Estate Planning. I send a planning document to clients before the two-hour consultation that must be completed before our meeting so that we can have a working consultation. I ask clients to bring any important documents they already have, such as wills, powers of attorneys, and insurance policies. If during the consultation the client wants me to draft new documents, I do this on a flat-fee, sliding scale basis. Clients are then sent draft documents to review before we discuss them together. When documents reflect my client's wishes and values, they come to the office to sign. At the conclusion of the signing meeting, clients leave with their documents in a bright green binder along with instructions and tips about how to use their new binder to make things easier for loved ones when the information in the binder is needed.
B. Estate Administration. I enjoy helping families navigate the probate system with the NC Clerk's Offices after someone has passed. I used to encourage more people to handle things on their own. However, I've found that not only is this an extremely stressful experience, it can also be difficult to understand, but easy to make mistakes. I do help and encourage clients to do as much of the work on their own as they want. But I've found that together with my paralegal, we can provide effective and efficient assistance at reasonable rates. Clients often tell us how thankful they are for our assistance.
C. Crisis-Planning for Public Benefits like Medicaid. I enjoy helping clients navigate the difficult process of applying for public benefits such as Medicaid should someone need long-term care in a skilled nursing community. Other attorneys enjoy pre-planning and many local Elder Law Attorneys offer public seminars on the topic. I like helping clients when they have an immediate need. We sometimes call it crisis planning as opposed to pre-planning. Emergency planning in difficult circumstances requires a certain set of skills that I enjoy using to help clients in need.