As a benchmark for planning and/or evaluating 2016 professional association educational conferences, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) Second Annual Summit, hosted January 26-27 in Newport Beach, California, established multiple impressive standards.
Organized by Co-Chairs Michael Amoruso and Professor Roberta Flowers into a series of overlapping three-hour Immersion Sessions and one-hour Breakout Sessions, the NAELA Summit fulfilled its promise of "div[ing] deep" into real-life elder law and special needs law case situations and challenging office practices. Designed to support different types of learning, individual sessions were supplemented with workshop documents made available online in advance of the conference.
Approximately 200 NAELA members attended the Summit - including a significant number of first-time NAELA member conference attendees plus an additional 20 sponsoring exhibitors. Combining the old with the new, two of NAELA's original founding members (Michael Gilfix and Vincent Russo) appeared as featured speakers. Networking was encouraged and multiple opportunities were scheduled including a First-Time Attendee Orientation Session.
Featured Summit Sessions
Personality Evaluation - Organizational anthropologist and marketing strategist Kimberly Dodson Gilbey delivered the Summit keynote address titled "How My Communication Style Can Help My Bottom Line." As a keynote supplement, attendees were encouraged to participate in a pre-conference personality type assessment and to wear their resulting "personality type badge" throughout the conference. Combined objectives included: 1) understanding how different personality styles interact in a professional context; 2) recognizing the impact of clients' communication styles; 3) learning to recognize problems resulting from conflicting communication styles; and 4) acquiring skills to address conflicting communication styles.
Technology Training - The NAELA Summit offered three separate technology breakout sessions:
- An iOS clinic led by Scott Grossberg profiling aps specifically recommended for elder law and special needs attorneys.
- A social media introduction by Robin Krooks focused on useful sites, marketing advice and consultative resources.
- An interactive technology clinic organized by Apple representatives to teach Apple technology accessibility features.
Peer Instruction - "Eric Mazur in the 1990s as an alternative to the traditional lecture format. S2KM was introduced to peer instruction by Forge Consulting, a personal injury settlement planning company which utilizes peer instruction to accelerate learning among its new employees. As described on wikipedia, peer instruction is "a student-centered approach that involves flipping the traditional classroom by moving information transfer out and moving information assimilation, or application of learning, into the classroom."
With the exception of Forge Consulting, S2KM had not witnessed or participated in any peer instruction educational exercise prior to the NAELA Summit. Without referencing the term "peer instruction", or consciously utilizing this learning methodology, both of the NAELA Summit Immersion Sessions led by Frank Johns ("Skills and Law When Serving Clients with Diminished Capacity") and Michael and Mark Gilfix ("Advanced Elder Law, Tax, and Estate Planning from Start to Finish, Part 1") represented (from S2KM's perspective) highly successful peer instruction educational prototypes worth additional evaluation and replication by NAELA. Note: S2KM was unable to attend Part 2 of the Advanced Elder Law Immersion Session led by Mark Munson.
Practice Management - Especially useful for the many Summit attendees beginning their elder law and/or special needs practice, NAELA scheduled several sessions addressing practice management topics:
- Michael Weeks - Explaining the Value of Your Fees to Clients.
- Jennifer VanderVeen - Practice Management Idea Sharing.
- Vincent Russo - Staff to Success.
- Shirley Berger Whiteneck - Communicating "Bad News" to Clients.
- Kirsten Davis - Writing Concise Letters.
- Sue Bronson and Michael Kirtland - Dealing with High Conflict Families.
Public Policy - As the professional practice of NAELA members continues to expand beyond traditional elder law to include special needs planning and personal injury settlement planning, NAELA is likewise challenged to expand its public policy focus. NAELA Public Policy Committee Co-Chairs Morris Klein and Jason Frank and Public Policy Manager David Goldfarb provided Summit attendees with an overview of potential legislative and regulatory changes that could affect their professional practice. Although the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act remains NAELA's most important lobbying priority, NAELA has proactively addressed several other public policy issues:
- Submitting comments about proposed FINRA rules relating to financial exploitation of seniors and persons with disabilities.
- Urging CMS to ban pre-dispute arbitration provisions in long-term care facility agreements.
- Recommending expanded Medicare home health coverage for persons with chronic illnesses to the Senate Finance Committee Chronic Care Working Group.
- Highlighting unanticipated harms to care giving spouses that could result from H.R. 1771 - a Bill to amend the Social Security Act to count portions of income from annuities of a community spouse as income available to institutionalized spouses for purposes of eligibility for medical assistance.
- Urging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to issue new guidelines to ensure that HUD rental assistance providers apply consistent rules for Special Needs Trust distributions throughout the U.S.
- Submitting an amici curiae brief (jointly with the Special Needs Alliance and National Housing Law Project) in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit case of Kimberly DeCambre v. Brookline Housing Authority et al. on the issue of "whether 42 U.S.C. Section 1437a as construed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development permits a local housing authority to treat the return of principle from a resident's self-settled special needs trust as "income" for purposes of the Housing Choice Voucher Program."
Special Needs Trusts - As evidenced by separate annual conferences sponsored by Stetson and the University of Texas Law Schools, Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) continue to represent a primary focus of practice for many elder law and special needs attorneys. The NAELA Summit did not overlook this important topic offering the following related presentations:
- Stuart Zimring - Drafting SNTs.
- Patricia Kefalas Dudek - Navigating SNT Trustees Through Rough Waters.
Advanced Elder Law Review - The NAELA Summit was preceded by a two-day advanced Elder and Special Needs Law review course consisting of 14 sessions designed in part to help attendees prepare for the CELA Exam.
As a relatively new addition to professional educational conferences, the NAELA Summit significantly exceeded S2KM's expectations and should become an important educational priority for an increasing number of NAELA members.
For S2KM reporting about prior NAELA conferences as well as conferences sponsored by other professional associations addressing special needs, settlement planning and structured settlement issues, see the structured settlement wiki.