Jerry Rothkoff's advocacy-based vision of "elder care law" serves as an optimistic and reassuring model for those involved in this field.
Jerold E. Rothkoff, Jerry to many, is the principal of the Rothkoff Law Group with offices in Cherry Hill and Turnersville, New Jersey, and Philadelphia and Trevose, Pennsylvania. He has held major leadership positions related to elder law, and has served as President of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and of the Life Care Planning Law Firms Association. But he didn’t quit there. Rothkoff also is the former Chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Elder and Disability Law Section, an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Elder Law Section and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and frequently lectures on elder law topics.
His long list of professional credentials is topped off by his work as an author and editor in the field of elder care advocacy, notably the South Jersey Guide to Senior and Disability Resources, The Southeastern Pennsylvania Guide to Senior and Disability Resources, and Law Points for Senior Citizens. In addition, he founded and writes for the Rothkoff Quarterly, a publication covering current news and issues concerning seniors and people with disabilities.
Rothkoff also devotes impressive energy to charitable work advocating for vulnerable people in the community. He is active in the Alzheimer’s Association and serves on the Boards of Directors of the Twilight Wish Foundation, the Delaware Valley Stroke Council, and the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey.
Jerry’s high energy, hard work, expertise, and humility, combined with his advocacy-based vision of "elder care law," serve as an optimistic and reassuring model for those involved in this field. Jerry’s own source of inspiration is his family. He and his wife Erica met on a blind date and have been married for 20 years. They have five children, 18-year-old identical twin girls, Liza and Julia, 15-year-old fraternal twin boys, Evan and Gregory, and 6-year-old Aitan. I asked Jerry to name his passions in life, his answer: “My family, elder care law, baseball, and Bruce Springsteen.”
Elder Care Advocacy
Jerry’s dedication to care advocacy is contagious. Those who have the pleasure of getting to know him are inspired by his enthusiasm when he discusses his clients and his staff. The tenor and pace with which Jerry speaks about them makes it clear to me that his dedication to elderly communities still brings him joy 25 years into his career.
A shorthand term for what Jerry is doing is elder care advocacy. This kind of law is not practiced in a traditional law office. In fact, Jerry’s elder care law practice is quite different. In a care-based rather than asset-based firm, Jerry’s focus is the care and housing needs of the client in his or her current health and family situation. The wide range of concerns and services includes asset protection, Medicaid, and other public benefits, but the client’s assets are not the primary focus. Instead, the first question is where and how the clients want to live and how they will get the health care and other services he or she needs. Akin to holistic medicine, this approach requires Jerry to navigate through multiple aspects of the client’s situation, and often requires him to deliver a range of coordinated legal solutions.
Rothkoff’s career evolved out of a traditional civil litigation background. Jerry is a native of the Philadelphia area. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1986, and Widener University School of Law in 1993, he started as an associate at a Philadelphia litigation boutique firm, handling civil matters like nursing home liability cases. This is where his interest and knowledge of nursing home standards, practices, and geriatric issues blossomed.
NAELA Conference Was a Turning Point
Jerry caught sight of a NAELA conference notice scheduled to be held in Philadelphia in 2000 and by chance decided to attend. He knew virtually nothing about elder law or NAELA but having seen the passion of the attendees and speakers, Jerry was hungry for more. That same night, he announced to his wife that he would be an elder law attorney. He learned the field from the ground up, and the following year left the litigation firm he had worked at for seven years. “I wanted to cut right to the solution,” Jerry remembers. At the age of 30, with a wife and one-year-old twins, he opened his elder law practice in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in February 2001.
Jerry became active in NAELA and attended the conferences and meetings for 10 consecutive years. In the early 2000s, his practice was primarily concentrated on public benefits planning and Medicaid issues. During this time, many elder law practices were similarly focused. Often, an attorney’s job was done when the client’s Medicaid application was approved.
But one of Jerry’s most vivid NAELA memories was a turning point in his life. As part of the 2005 Conference program in San Francisco, he attended a Giants game with colleagues. At the game, he started a conversation with an attorney who was convinced of the importance of offering services beyond public benefit planning, and passionate about integrating care planning into his services. That attorney was Miles Hurley of Atlanta, who became one of Jerry’s closest professional friends. Hurley’s original inspiration, along with the vision and guidance of Tim Takacs, along with many others, was instrumental in Rothkoff’s evolution into a care and advocacy-centered law practice.
“At that point, it hit me,” Jerry says. “There was a piece missing — the advocacy piece. People want navigation.” Instead of the successful Medicaid application being the conclusion of his representation, it could be just the beginning. There was a huge unmet need for expertise and direction through a maze of housing and health care choices. From then on, Jerry has worked hard to build a law firm based on care advocacy.
A Team Effort
Jerry’s firm performs care advocacy for all clients, whether or not benefit issues are involved. His firm emphasizes practical measures and solutions to fit the client’s circumstances. It also assesses the client’s current health needs, acuity level and living goals, and uses this information to obtain the best care and living circumstances possible, given the client’s resources. The firm does concern itself with asset protection and public benefits as necessary, but the overriding goal is to find and place the clients in the best possible situation. This means working with nursing and health care facilities. Rothkoff concerns himself with everything client-related: fine-tuning discharge plans, coordinating with hospices, analyzing the client’s insurance coverages, assisting in appeal processes, identifying assisted living options and recommending plans of care for home care, to name a few. Jerry puts special emphasis on recognizing the expertise of those working with him at his firm. He works with a team that includes other lawyers, geriatric care coordinators, paralegals, and support staff. The team is deployed in a strategic way so that they can be most effective in navigating clients through the system. For instance, geriatric care coordinators are assigned to particular counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey so that each coordinator gets to know all of the local procedures and agency personnel. Jerry calls them his “eyes and ears on the ground.”
He is unequivocal that it is his staff that allows him to do his work. Because of the nature of the practice, there are a great number of deliverables, and consequently, his staff’s expertise is crucial. He strongly believes that a “successful practice is never about you, because you can’t do it by yourself.” Rothkoff sums it up as one of the most important truths he has learned throughout his career: “You’re only as good as the team that surrounds you.” And there’s no doubt that Jerry is as good as they come.
About the Author
Amy Acheson, Esq., is a member of the NAELA News Editorial Board and practices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.