Welcome to our new visitors joining us for the Caregiving.com Holiday Progressive Blog Party. This week is dedicated to bringing good cheer to family caregivers, and I hope to add to that by breaking down some barriers in terms of access to lawyers and provide some steps for lawyers and caregivers to work together toward a common goal.
For those of you who do not know me, I am an attorney in Central New York and Northern New York (offices in Syracuse and along the St. Lawrence River) practicing in the areas of estate planning, elder law and elder care, guardianships and nursing home planning. I have practiced in this field since I graduated law school in 2009, and in March 2015 opened my own law firm to try to break down some of the barriers in access to legal services for the elderly population.
I want to start out this week by providing some tips for caregivers and lawyers who are working together toward a common goal of assisting your loved one or client. In my experience, working directly with caregivers has provided some of the most rewarding moments of practice, and definitely some of the most emotional. I was present with a family caregiver and other loved ones when one of my clients made the difficult decision to leave her lifelong home and relocate to a skilled nursing facility, and I was present with a hired caregiver and a client with no family when she passed away peacefully in her home. Lawyers are not on the “front line” in that we don’t typically navigate the emotional rollercoaster of being a caregiver on a day-by-day basis, but we (the good ones at least) are there when any difficult decision needs to be made.
With that in mind, here are my top three tips for lawyers and caregivers to improve outcomes for loved ones and clients and provide an overall better quality of care and legal service:
Establish clear expectations and boundaries
From the beginning of a relationship involving lawyer-caregiver-client, it is imperative that all parties have clear expectations of expected outcomes. One of my preferred ways to tease out this information is to ask the caregiver, “if my representation is a success, what do you think that will look like?” This usually allows us to engage in a free-flowing conversation about the length and scope of my representation, and it also very quickly allows my to identify the goals of the caregiver and the client. Admittedly, I struggle with setting up clear boundaries with caregivers. My tendency to want to always help has resulted in my chauffeuring hired caregivers to the bus station, picking up groceries, and shopping for underwear and socks for the client. Some of these activities I enjoy, but admittedly they are not the best use of my time.
Enter the 21st Century when communicating
This is an area where I’ve been able to really modernize the lawyer-caregiver dynamic and provide more prompt feedback in a way that assists the caregiver and client, but also does not clog my schedule. Primarily, my recommendation here is for the lawyer to use text messaging as the primary mode of communication with the caregiver. Many caregivers do not have time or access to their email when they are providing care to their loved one or client, and often they need prompt feedback on a specific issue.
Likewise, time-consuming phone calls with a lawyer can be costly and distracting. Text messaging provides the quickest method of response and the most cost-effective way to communicate. This may took some encouragement to get lawyers to adopt, we’re historically the slowest technology adopters. With some coaxing, the lawyer should soon realize the text message method of communication provides a direct pipeline for client access in a way that frees up the lawyer’s time while providing timely service.
Provide feedback and recognition
People thrive on positive feedback. People in difficult situations especially need reminders that they are doing a great job and that their efforts are appreciated. One of the best ways I’ve implemented this in my practice is through having periodic meetings with the caregiver and focusing on the areas where we have been mutually successful. Sometimes without first-hand knowledge of how the caregiver handles day-to-day issues, it is hard to provide specific feedback on that front. What does work is encouraging others that the lawyer interacts with to provide similar positive feedback to the caregiver. One of the biggest complaints I receive from hired and family caregivers is that it is a thankless position. A review of most of the blogs on this Holiday Progressive Blog Party indicates that the position really comes up short sometimes when it comes to recognition of successes and extraordinary efforts. We try in our practice to reward caregivers and constantly provide positive feedback and encouragement.
I hope these three suggestions will help the lawyer-caregiver dynamic improve, and that together we can continue to break new ground as we provide care to our loved ones.