The legal profession contains a variety of practice areas and a wide range of professionals who specialize in those areas. Lawyers often focus or specialize in just one legal area or a small range of related practice areas.
One area is elder law, also called "older adult law." This field addresses legal issues specific to people over age 65. These legal professionals may also be certified elder law attorneys (CELAs), meaning they have obtained an approved certification as an expert in that field.
Basic Requirements for CELAs
A certified specialist in older adult law is an attorney who has:
- Received specific training in older adult law issues
- Practiced in that field for a certain amount of time
- Been certified as highly qualified in older adult law by their state bar or by another accrediting organization
Certified Specialists vs. “Specializing" in Older Adult Law
The title of "certified specialist" is an important qualification. An attorney who represents themself as a "certified specialist" but has not been appropriately certified can be liable for false and misleading advertising.
The American Bar Association publishes model ethical rules for attorneys advertising their specialties. They also must follow the related rules in their various states.
Full Requirements for Certification as an Older Adult Law Attorney
Although the requirements for certification as a specialist in older adult law may vary from state to state, many states recognize the elder law certification issued by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF).
That organization sets the following requirements to qualify as a certified elder law attorney. The attorney must:
- Be licensed to practice law in at least one state or the District of Columbia
- Have practiced law for at least five years before applying for certification
- Be practicing law at the time of their application
- Be a member in good standing in the bar where they are licensed
- Have spent at least 16 hours per week practicing older adult law in the three years before the application
- Have handled at least 60 older adult law matters during the previous three years
- Have participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in older adult law in the three years before their application
- Submit the names of five attorney references familiar with their competence and qualifications
- Pass a full-day certification examination
Once an attorney has been certified as a specialist in older adult law, they must continue their practice and participation in continuing legal education specific to the field.
This ensures that certified elder law attorneys maintain current knowledge of relevant laws and practice skills in representing older adult clients. They also should know the legal areas that impact their families and loved ones, such as choosing and paying for a nursing home or health care.
What Can a Certified Elder Law Attorney Do for Me?
These attorneys have specialized training and practice in older adult law and the additional resources available. Certified elder law attorneys can be expected to understand the current state of older adult law in their jurisdiction and offer an expert level of representation to their clients.
An older adult law attorney will also understand the challenges facing clients over age 65 and is trained to address their needs. If you're working with an attorney that is not a certified specialist in elder law, there is a greater chance that you may receive misinformation.
Given the many complexities involved in the field, you could hear outdated or incorrect information. These attorneys must understand areas related to older adult law, such as:
Where Can You Find a Certified Elder Law Attorney?
NELF's website provides a list of specialists by state. However, it is not the only certifying entity. You can also locate a certified elder law attorney through the state bar for your state.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) also provides resources, education, advocacy, and a list of certified elder law attorneys.
You can also locate a certified elder law attorney on FindLaw's attorney directory.