With an eye toward protecting the country's aging population, a group of Illinois attorneys is forming a state chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Inc.
The Tucson, Ariz.-based organization, with 2,000 members nationwide, focuses on improving the availability and delivery of legal services for the elderly. Membership is open to licensed attorneys who practice elder law or who are interested in legal issues affecting seniors.
The Illinois chapter will mainly concern itself with networking and with presenting continuing legal education programs, according to its first chairman, Chicago attorney . With a steering committee at work setting the chapter's priorities, the Illinois group hopes to be chartered by the national group within six months.
"We find that continuing education and networking are probably two sides to the same coin because different people who practice elder law tend to focus on different areas," such as Medicaid and Medicare, long-term health insurance and disability planning, he said.
The national group recently created a foundation to develop a board of certification which may offer its first examination in November 1994, according to Helen Cohn Needham, an Arlington, Va., attorney who is chair of the group's task force on certification.
Attorneys who seek certification will need to pass the exam and otherwise demonstrate enhanced knowledge in the various areas of elder law. The certification process will be open to non-NAELA members as well, she added.
"We see it as a way of educating attorneys and protecting consumers," she said.
The organization will seek accreditation from the American Bar Association after the first exam is prepared, Needham said. If developed in time, the exam will be offered next November even if the ABA has not completed its review, she said.
While some general practitioners oppose certification because they believe it makes it more difficult for non-certified attorneys to attract clients, it is necessary to protect the elderly from inexperienced attorneys who misrepresent their capabilities, according to Arlington Heights attorney Steven C. Perlis, vice chairman of the Illinois chapter.
"It needs to be true that somebody can confidently call somebody who says he or she is an elder law attorney, and have somebody who is experienced and competent," he said.
The American Bar Association has accredited three organizations to certify lawyers in six different specialties, though it has never endorsed the concept of certification, according to Adrian Hochstadt, staff counsel for the ABA Standing Committee on Specialization.
The certification programs by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (civil trial advocacy and criminal trial advocacy), Commercial Law League of America (business bankruptcy and creditors' rights) and American Bankruptcy Board of Certification (business bankruptcy and consumer bankruptcy) were accredited in August, Hochstadt said.
Accredited programs must offer comprehensive written exams, peer review references and continuing legal education classes, he said.
For more information on the Illinois chapter, contact at(312) 372-1040.