For over 20 years, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has been the leading professional organization for attorneys specializing in Elder and Special Needs Law. During this time the Academy has witnessed not only a tremendous amount of change within NAELA, but also in the practice of Elder and Special Needs Law.
In October 1987, NAELA was founded during a meeting in San Francisco by attorneys who specialized in Elder Law. They had four simple goals:
--Establish a national network of experienced attorneys
--Establish standards of practice
--Identify members as a resource to other attorneys
Two years later NAELA held its first Symposium in Tucson, Ariz., which gave its members the opportunity to meet face-to-face and share ideas and work to expand the Elder Law profession. By 1989, NAELA had over 500 members and a budget of $63,000. In 1991 the Academy held its first Advanced Elder Law Institute in San Antonio.
Founding Current NAELA Members
- Cynthia L. Barrett
- Allan D. Bogutz
- Priscilla Camp
- Mary Z. Ceridan
- Nancy M. Coleman
- M. Garey Eakes
- Bob Freedman
- Michael Gilfix
- Myra G. Gilfix
- Harley Gordon
- Lee M. Holmes
- Natalie J. Kaplan
- Ron M. Landsman
- John Lassiter
- Judy Mero (deceased)
- Tim Nay
- William H. Overman
- John Regan (deceased)
- Vincent J. Russo
- Scott R. Severns
- Pat Smith (deceased)
- Nancy Solnick
- Barbara Wertheim
As a result of the success of the annual meetings, NAELA members began to develop strong bonds and many felt that meeting several times a year at a national conference was not enough. The next step was to create state chapters which would enable Elder Law attorneys to expand their knowledge of state-specific issues.
The growth in membership led the Board of Directors to approve the formation of state chapters in 1992. Presently there are 26 chapters with over 2,600 members – over 50 percent of NAELA’s membership. Some chapter’s membership ranges from a few dozen to several hundred, and many members are active in local politics and serve in leadership roles with organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association.
Despite the growth in NAELA, Elder Law was not an officially recognized field of practice. In 1992 the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) was formed and a certification program called the Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) was developed. After a two-year process to have Elder Law recognized as a specialty, the American Bar Association approved NELF as a certifying entity for Elder Law.
New Technology, NAELA Expands Its Mission
As the Internet became ubiquitous in the 1990s, NAELA’s first listserv was initiated in 1995 by one of its members. This marked yet another step in connecting NAELA members from all over the country. Attorneys could now ask questions and get advice 24 hours a day without having to leave their office or home. Presently over one quarter of NAELA members use this service. Additionally, NAELA launched its first-ever website in May 1997 and assumed management of the listserv in early 1998.
In July 2003, the Board of Directors modified NAELA’s mission to include a provision to improve the lives of people with special needs. In doing so, it will establish NAELA as the premier provider of educational and networking resources for both Elder and Special Needs Law attorneys.
The Board of Directors sought to increase its presence among lawmakers and to support federal candidates who champion NAELA’s mission. In January 2004, the Senior Rights PAC (SR-PAC) was established. Since that time, the SR-PAC has raised over $200,000 that has been distributed to congressional and presidential candidates of both parties. Additionally, members come to Washington, DC, annually for a grassroots “Hill Day” in which they meet with their congressmen and their staffs regarding issues such as the Deficit Reduction Act, Medicare and Medicaid, and health care policy.
NAELA Today and Beyond
In January 2009, NAELA relocated its offices to the Washington, DC, area, and hired its own staff who focus on communications and publications, membership and marketing, special events, professional development, public policy, member services, and chapter services.
NAELA launched its re-designed website in October 2010, and one month later announced the formation of two student chapters in New York State. NAELA’s annual budget is over now over $2 million and has a membership of more than 4,500 members.
As the Baby Boom generation begins to retire, NAELA will continue to serve as the preeminent professional organization for attorneys specializing in Elder and Special Needs Law.