Since the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) was founded more than 25 years ago, lawyers who work with seniors have been trying to brand themselves as “elder law” attorneys. Despite this effort, more and more often I hear us referred to as “elder care” attorneys. “Elder law attorneys” still gets almost four times as many results in Google than “elder care attorneys,” but that doesn’t seem like a lot when there has been no effort made to promote the second term, though the results overlap significantly.
The question is which is a better title for what we do. Elder law feels more formal than elder care law. In addition, at least to me with almost three decades in the practice, it seems to fit better with what we do — estate planning, guardianship, public benefits eligibility. Elder care law seems more related to elder care, which seems more connected to the actual care of seniors, whether at home, or in assisted living facility or nursing home. From that point of view, elder care law would seem to involve nursing home contracts, residents’ rights in facilities, and employment contracts with home care providers. Many elder law attorneys do deal with these issues, but they do not make of the core of most elder law practices.
But, of course, I come at this with a unique perspective imbued with more than 25 years of NAELA membership. The public, and our potential clients, for the most part have never heard of elder law or elder care law (or “senior” law, another term I’ve run across, though less often) until they run into an elder law, usually around a parent’s lack of capacity or need for long-term care. Will they be looking for an elder law attorney, an elder care lawyer, or just any lawyer who can answer their questions?
My guess is that many consumers who are not previously familiar with “elder law” as a legal specialty will be more comfortable with “elder care” law which feels gentler and more focused on what clients are looking for — ways to pay for care for themselves or other family members, usually parents. Without the history with “elder law,” they will not have my sense that it better describes what we do. So, we should go with the flow and use whatever term our clients and prospective clients use. With apologies to Shakespeare, What’s in a name? That which we call elder law by the name of elder care law would provide the same benefit clients and their families.