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Featured Member

Joan Lensky Robert, CELA, CAP: Enlightening Minds and Shaping Lives

By Eric J. Einhart, Esq.

FeatMember For more than 30 years, Joan has helped educate and mentor other attorneys in elder law and special needs planning.

If you would please indulge me with a moment of self-reflection.

Take a moment and think about the people who have helped guide your careers as elder law and special needs planning attorneys. Please think of the people who have taken you under their wing to teach you, to enlighten you, to inspire and nurture your passion for advocacy, and to help set your moral compass. We all know people like this, and many of us would not be where we are today without them.

For many elder law and special needs planning attorneys throughout the country, especially in New York, one person who comes to mind is Joan Lensky Robert, Esq., CELA, CAP.

For more than 30 years, Joan has helped educate and mentor other attorneys in elder law and special needs planning. She has also helped lead local and national organizations, developed tools to teach laypeople about the law, provided legal services to thousands of clients, and assiduously advocated for legislative change to ensure that seniors and individuals with disabilities are protected. Her contributions have not only earned her the admiration and respect of her colleagues but have helped shape our area of practice and society.

A native New Yorker, Joan was born in Brooklyn (“before it was trendy,” she advises) and grew up in Hicksville, New York. She graduated from Skidmore College as a member of the Periclean, the Skidmore College Honor Society. Joan then earned her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, studying under a Ford Foundation Fellowship. After college and graduate school, Joan moved to New York City and taught French in the Valley Stream Central High School District, where she taught for 22 years.

Since Joan was born and raised on an island, it is not surprising she met her husband and future law partner, Charles Robert (Charley), on a beach in Mykonos, Greece, more than 50 years ago. They have been together ever since.

Joan jokes that since Charley was from Chicago, Illinois, and she was from New York, they decided to compromise between Chicago and New York and ended up in New York, where they live today.

After getting married and settling in New York, Joan continued to teach French in high school, Charley practiced elder law and special needs planning, and they both raised their two children, Heather and Jay. Then one April day, when Heather was 12 years old and Jay was 10, Joan decided that law school sounded interesting. So, she took the LSAT and enrolled in Touro College School of Law. Throughout law school, Joan attended classes at night and during the summer while continuing to teach. She graduated from Touro College School of Law summa cum laude, received a Dean’s Fellowship, and was valedictorian of the part-time division.

She began her career working for Charley at Kassoff, Robert & Lerner, LLP, in 1990. In 1991, Joan became a member of the New York Bar. For Joan, the transition from teaching to practicing law was more challenging than she thought.

“I think one of the biggest differences between teaching and being an attorney is when you are teaching, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to evoke questions and having conversations with your students,” Joan said. “And as an attorney, clients don’t care about the questions; they want to know the answers. So that challenged me in the beginning.”

Despite the differences between the two professions, Joan believes that a common theme among teachers and attorneys is breaking down complicated concepts into simple explanations.

“I think one of the things teachers and lawyers both try to do is break down concepts and facts to analyze them and present them in their simplest building blocks,” Joan said. “That’s why I say that you and I probably don’t think elder law is very complex. But you must understand things to make them seem simple. And I think that is true for teaching and practicing law.”

Joan continued practicing at the law firm Kassoff, Robert, & Lerner, LLP, with Charley and their partner, Steve Lerner. “Working with Charley was great — it was like having this wonderful fountain of knowledge to draw on. Charley is an excellent teacher.” In June 2019, she joined her son, Jay, who founded Robert Legal Group, PLLC. “He is an excellent boss,” she quipped. She is proud that Jay is on the Board of the New York Chapter of NAELA.

Today, Joan serves her clients at the Robert Legal Group, PLLC, where she focuses her practice in elder law and special needs planning, guardianships, trust and estates, and Medicaid planning.

Besides providing legal services to her clients, Joan has always been active in the elder law and special needs planning community at the local, state, and national levels.

Local Legend
Locally, Joan has been an active member of the Nassau County Bar Association. She is a past chair of its Elder Law/Social Services/Health Advocacy Committee and served as dean of the Nassau Academy of Law. As dean of the Academy, Joan once again utilized her teaching skills and interest in educational programs by working with the Nassau Bar to offer CLE in all practice areas. She served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Nassau County Bar Association for several years and as a member of its nominating committee.

New York State Of Mind
At the state level, Joan served as Chair of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Elder Law Section from 2003–2004 and served as co-chair of its Special Needs Planning Committee until 2018. Joan served as co-chair of the Section’s mentoring program from its inception and was always pleased to mentor less experienced Section members. Joan is a past member of the NYSBA Committee of Persons with a Disability. She is an attorney member of the Guardianship Advisory Committee formed by the Office of Court Administration. Joan also served on the Board of Editors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association publication Bill, which honored her as an outstanding downstate speaker. She is a past editor in chief of the New York Elder Law and Guardianship Newsletter. She co-wrote the chapter on special needs planning in the book Guardianship Practice in New York State and wrote the chapters on Medicaid liens and planning in personal injury actions in New York.

Joan is also a past president of the New York Chapter of NAELA. In 2012 she received the NAELA award as an outstanding member of the New York NAELA Chapter.

National Treasure
Joan joined NAELA in 1991 and has attended just about every annual conference since. Through her work with the Programs and Publications Steering Committee, she helped present several educational efforts, such as intensive workshops on topics like Social Security, special needs planning, fundamentals of elder law, and trusts. “The efforts of the NAELA staff, particularly liaison Pam Yanni, and the expertise and enthusiasm of our presenters were instrumental in these programs’ success.” Joan also served as a member of the Board of Directors of NAELA from 2015 to 2019, helping shape the organization’s policy directions and educational efforts. “Meeting and collaborating with brilliant and dedicated elder law attorneys across the country as a member of the NAELA Board has been a highlight of my career,” she noted.

As a former French teacher and student, Joan has always enjoyed traveling. Her most memorable NAELA experiences have been planning for and participating in educational trips taken with the International Committee. “The trips to Israel and Amsterdam presented an outstanding opportunity to meet our colleagues across the world and to engage with our fellow NAELA members in social and academic settings.” “I look forward to the planned future trips.”

Joan is a celebrated disability rights advocate whose accolades include being honored for outstanding service by the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, Project Real, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NYSBA Elder Law Section in January 2014 and received the Theresa Award from the Theresa Alessandra Russo Foundation in 2012. Charley was also the recipient of the Theresa Award in 2000. They share the distinction of being the first married couple to be honored individually by the Theresa Foundation for their dedication to children with Special Needs.

As if that’s not enough, the National Elder Law Foundation designated Joan as a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) in 2014. She was invited to join NAELA’s Council of Advanced Practitioners (CAP) in 2015. In 2013, she was named a Super Lawyer, a designation she retains to this day.

As active and focused as Joan may be in her law practice and efforts with NAELA and other professional endeavors, her greatest love is her family. She and Charley have been married for 50 years and have had the joy of raising two extraordinary children, Heather Robert Coffman, Esq. and Jay Robert, Esq., who are practicing attorneys. Joan and Charley are blessed with four amazing grandchildren, Naomi Coffman, Leo Coffman, Edie Robert, and Ikey Robert.

Joan has practiced law with both her husband and son and will tell you with no hesitation it has been wonderful working with both Charley and Jay. Although she will admit that work-life balance can be complicated, she said that when you work with family you really don’t balance it at all, it’s just who you are as a family.

If you ask Joan what she likes best about practicing elder law and special needs planning, she will simply tell you, “I like helping people.” When you consider Joan’s remarkable career, both as an educator and attorney, her answer perfectly speaks to the kind of person she is deep down. But to say that Joan only helps people would not do justice to her impact on the lives she has touched. Joan not only helps people, but she also shapes their lives.

For more than 50 years, Joan Lensky Robert has been a shining light that has generously illuminated us all with her warmth and brilliance. She has enlightened the minds of her students, zealously advocated for seniors and individuals with disabilities. She provides peace of mind to her clients, educates members of our judicial and legislative branches on relevant legal topics, and serves as a dynamic and determined leader in the elder law and special needs planning legal community.

So, thank you, Joan, for all you have done and will continue to do to enlighten us, shape our lives, and make this world a better place.

About the Author
Eric J. Einhart, Esq., is a partner with the law firm of Russo Law Group, P.C., who actively practices elder law and special needs planning in New York. He is NAELA News editor-in-chief and a member of the NAELA Board of Directors.