Bar sets up legal assistance project for the Black elderly

Bar sets up legal assistance project for the Black elderly – National Bar Association

Maurice Foster

Elderly Americans are quickly becoming the largest “special interest” group in the country. Yet, even though the elderly, as a group, have become more influential in American society, statistics show that the Black elderly remain among the most underserved populations.

The growing numbers of elderly Black Americans at all socio-economic levels will require a variety of specialized services in the years to come. The National Bar Association (NBA), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of minority attorneys, and the Administration on Aging recognize that one solution to their needs is greater involvement of Black lawyers in the growing network of organizations serving the nation’s aged.

The National Bar Association’s Black Elderly Legal Assistance Support Project (BELASP), supported by grant funds from the Administration on Aging, is working to improve both the availability and delivery of legal services to elderly Black Americans. BELASP has a unique position as the only national program devoted exclusively to meeting the legal needs of the Black elderly.

Community Legal Action Programs. Through BELASP Community Legal Education Programs, NBA members visit neighborhood organizations where the largest groups of elderly Blacks live and socialize. With the sponsorship of the NBA and its local affiliate chapters, Black lawyers discuss legal issues and offer assistance in Black churches, community centers, senior citizen homes and housing complexes, and at church conferences. The NBA has developed sample cooperative agreements which its chapters use to develop working relationships with these institutions.

In North Carolina, Black lawyers have initiated what is now called the “Adopt a Church” program. Under the program, which is jointly sponsored by the state’s Division on Aging, Black lawyers conduct community outreach presentations on legal issues. The programs generally 24 hours long, are held in various churches on Saturdays.

The NBA’s Barrister Association of Philadelphia has prepared an instructional videotape as a result of its BELASP Community Legal Education Program. This tape covers wills and probate, funeral fraud, and Social Security issues. The video was recently used by a group of young attorneys to acquaint themselves with the growing area of elder law.

National Symposia. Each year BELASP convenes a national symposium to address the legal needs of the Black elderly. The symposium, held at the NBA’s Annual Convention, is attended by minority lawyers from across the nation, and include panelists and speakers from federal, state, and local organizations and government agencies. Lawyers and other symposium participants learn about strategies that are effective in meeting the legal needs of the Black elderly and about the important role they can play in strengthening the economic and social position of America’s Black aged.

Clinical Legal Education Programs. This project works with Black lawyers, law students, and law schools to develop model clinical legal education programs which will assist the private Black bar in providing pro bono legal assistance for the Black elderly.

Linking Black Lawyers With State Aging Networks. This project helps State Agencies on Aging to coordinate efforts with the National Bar Association’s nationwide network of 67 affiliate chapters to increase the delivery of legal assistance to the Black elderly, especially the poor. The specific strategy is to increase Black lawyer involvement in providing pro-bono legal assistance and to implement community legal education and outreach programs designed to improve community awareness and involvement in addressing the legal needs or elderly Blacks.

Developing effective affiliate chapter programs calls for programs tailored to individual states. In Alabama and Illinois, for example, the project has adopted divergent approaches based on the interests of local lawyers and the needs of local elderly populations

In Alabama, a plan for linking a minority bar association with state elder law programs encompasses an educational seminar and a community outreach program. The Alabama Lawyers Association (an affiliate chapter of the NBA), along with BELASP and the Alabama Commission on Aging, co sponsored a one-day seminar on minority lawyer involvement in Alabama’s system of legal services to the elderly in June 1989 at Selma University.

The symposium featured “An Overview of Alabama’s State Legal Services for the Elderly,” where representatives from the Alabama Commission on Aging discussed the state’s system of elder law services. The seminar “A Strategy for Black Lawyer Involvement in Alabama’s Aging Network” examined substantive issues important in the emerging field of elder law, including health care, pensions, estate planning, and public and private benefits. Methods for direct lawyer involvement in Alabama’s elder law network were discussed, including referrals, community outreach programs, pro-bono participation, and private legal services funded under Title Ill of the Older Americans Act. The Alabama Lawyers Association and the NBA are cosponsoring community outreach activities in Alabama.

In Illinois, BELASP is fostering a new relationship between an existing minority bar association legal services program and the state elder law network. The Cook County Bar Association (the NBA’s affiliate chapter in the Chicago area) is involved in linking its Community Law Project (CLP) with the Illinois aging network’s system for providing legal services to the Black elderly poor.

The CLP, as a Legal Services Corporation grantee, provides an ideal opportunity for minority lawyer involvement in the Illinois system of elder law services. CLP’s expertise with legal topics of importance to the poor will be extremely useful in dealing with the needs of the elderly poor. The Cook County Bar Association, the Illinois Department on Aging and BELASP are working to involve the CLP with the Illinois aging network’s formal system for providing pro-bono/ reduced fee services to the Black elderly poor.

BELASP is striving to sensitize Black lawyers to the importance of elder law issues. BELASP is based on the belief that Black attorney involvement in community outreach programs and direct legal services for the elderly can touch the lives of the Black aged in ways that will improve their economic and social condition.

COPYRIGHT 1990 U.S. Government Printing Office

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