Area Agencies on Aging Are Allies for Elder Law Attorneys
By Michael Knaapen, Director of Public Policy and Alliance Development
Published November 2023
Area Agencies on Aging, or AAAs, are an important and unique feature of the American social service infrastructure for older adults, and they can serve as crucial partners for elder law attorneys.AAA
The mission of state-designated AAAs is to enhance the quality of life for older adults within a given jurisdiction. Although AAAs can vary from region to region, they generally provide programs, services, and advocacy to older adults and their caregivers; this can include some legal services or aid.
Considering the substantial overlap in clients, AAAs and elder law attorneys are natural allies. However, some elder law attorneys may be unaware of their local AAA or how best to engage with it. NAELA encourages members to contact their local AAA, develop relationships, seek ways to engage, and even explore potential referral patterns or other business opportunities that may be possible.
Surprisingly, one challenge that elder law attorneys may encounter in establishing this relationship is first locating their local AAA. The reason this may be difficult is that not all Area Agencies on Aging go by that name, nor do they all go by a uniform name of any kind, nor are their myriad names necessarily intuitive or obvious. And of course, the name can change; if two or more AAAs combine and go through rebranding exercises, this could lead to further confusion. Some AAAs are embedded in other institutions or organizations — including local, governmental, or social service entities — and some may have branches in senior centers or community centers. For this reason, you may in fact already be in touch with your local AAA without realizing it. Fortunately, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) hosts a website, ElderCare.ACL.Gov, where local AAAs and other service providers can be easily located.
Once you have identified your local AAA, you can develop relationships with key people. An email or phone call will help to begin the relationship, followed by asking questions about how you can help lend support to its mission, showing curiosity about the agency’s programmatic needs for legal information education, and offering descriptions of the services that you or your firm provide including any pro bono opportunities.
There may be business opportunities involved in such a relationship. Your AAA may have clients in need of elder law services and would be grateful to have your contact information available. Referrals, of course, go both ways, and the agency would likely appreciate knowing that you refer your clients to them. Some agencies even contract counsel for their legal services, and you or your firm may be interested in this kind of business arrangement and make a proposal.
More important than these business relationships, however, are the personal ones. NAELA members have unique and potent expertise which AAA clients may need, and indeed, which AAAs may need. Seek opportunities, such as serving on committees or even boards to help advance your local AAA’s mission.
If you have not yet established a relationship with your local Area Agency on Aging, use the ElderCare.ACL.Gov site to locate it, reach out with an offer to help, and keep the relationship alive. These relationships benefit elder law attorneys, AAAs, and, most importantly, the clients that you both care about.