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The U.S. Census Bureau projects that there will be 59.8 million baby boomers in 2030 between the ages of 66 and 84. In that same year it anticipates that more than 20 percent of the entire U.S. population will be 65 years old and over.
The aging of the U.S. population is not going to end with baby boomers. Gen Xers and Millennials will be following in their footsteps. With life expectancy for U.S. residents reaching 78.6 years in 2017, there will continue to be tens of millions of people in the U.S. living into their 70s, 80s, and beyond.
Once adults reach their later years, they begin to have legal needs that are unique to their stage in life. These needs are typically handled by elder law attorneys.
Because there is no shortage of people growing older in the U.S., elder law is an attractive practice area for solo practitioners and small firm attorneys seeking to establish a niche legal practice.
But elder law is a unique niche practice. Here are three reasons why.
Unlike many areas of law that are focused on a specific legal problem, an elder law practice focuses on the needs of people who are at a particular stage in their lives.
Older adults are likely to have a number of varied legal needs, including issues regarding Medicare and long-term healthcare options, financial planning (including tax matters), creating a durable power of attorney, living wills and advance directives and even filing legal claims against nursing homes.
As a result, most full-service elder law legal practices provide a mix of traditional legal services, including trusts and estates, health law, tax law and even personal injury law. The need to provide a broader swath of legal services means that elder law attorneys typically need to be knowledgeable about more areas of the law than their colleagues.
But this is a good thing. Because clients of elder law practices are likely to need legal services more than once and in more than one area of the law, they are likely to become repeat clients.
Just because older adults are more likely to become repeat clients of an elder law practice doesn’t mean that they automatically will. That’s where exceptional client service comes in—but what is “exceptional” is likely to depend on a client’s circumstances.
Sure, some elder law clients might be thrilled to use a chatbot or speak with a virtual receptionist. They might love the convenience that online forms, video chats, e-signing of documents, and email drip campaigns provide. And they might appreciate the ability to make online payments.
But other elder law clients may demand a more personalized approach. Having spent most of their adult lives in a less tech-powered culture, they can view technology as getting in the way of exceptional client service. They may want to speak directly with their attorney whenever they call the firm. They may have no desire to sit in front of a computer to complete online forms. They may not regularly check their email. They may prefer visiting a law firm in person. And they may prefer to pay their legal fees by mailing a check after receiving a hard-copy invoice.
For elder law clients who are in poor health, attorneys might need to make house calls, perhaps even visiting a hospital or nursing home. Some elder law clients may even need their legal representatives to interact with their attorneys because they are too ill to do so themselves.
Perhaps more so in elder law than other legal practices, attorneys will need to make sure they understand the range of client service expectations their various clients have—and how to best meet them.
All legal practices can benefit from a sizeable referral network. After all, most attorneys build their practices through referrals.
But given the scope of elder law practices, elder law attorneys’ wide referral networks can actually benefit their clients.
That’s because their attorneys can refer them to non-attorneys who provide complementary services. For example, a client coming to an elder law attorney for financial or tax planning may also be looking for a financial planner or accountant. Likewise, a client seeking to create an advanced directive may wish to think about their options for nursing homes or long-term care facilities—even if they are currently in good health.
Another way elder law clients benefit from their attorneys’ referral networks is when their legal needs require more sophisticated counsel than their elder law attorneys are able to provide. For example, would-be plaintiffs in a nursing home class action would likely be better served by a plaintiff’s attorney who specializes in that practice. In that same vein, elder law clients with sophisticated trusts and estates issues may need to seek the counsel of an attorney who specializes in that field.
Elder law attorneys’ referral networks save their clients precious time and energy because they don’t have to search for additional service providers. And, because the attorneys are the ones making the referrals, their clients can be assured that these providers have been properly vetted. If clients have great experiences with these referred providers, they are likely to make their appreciation for their attorneys known through their own referrals and testimonials.
There is little doubt that elder law is a flourishing legal practice. For solos and small firm attorneys who want a holistic practice, enjoy working with clients with a range of client service expectations and aspire to grow a large referral network, elder law might be the perfect legal practice for them.