Lawyers and Caregivers: 3 Tips for Success

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.

12 thoughts on “Lawyers and Caregivers: 3 Tips for Success

  1. Thank you for these tips! I blog at CareGiving.com and on my website, RobertsSister.com and am a participant in the Holiday Progressive Blog Party as well. You have great tips and I love that you ask the client what they think “success” will look like when they work with you. Great way to manage expectations!

    I also manage a law firm in California and actually think some of the attorneys utilize text messaging with their clients. Not all – some are still hand-writing briefs so it will be a while to get everyone on board! :-)

    Thanks again for the tips and for participating in the Blog Party! I will be sure to share your article on Twitter!

    Trish (aka, Robert’s Sister)

  2. I am happy to find this, especially seeing the posts on legal issues regarding the questions of giving a house to our children. It’s something I have needed to look into more closely. I found your site through caregiving.com. I care for my parents, whose house wasn’t an issue until it sold and I had to clean it out! I’m doing my best to clean and clear any excess stuff from my own house now!

  3. Hello Anthony,

    Welcome to the holiday blog party and thanks for sharing your expert advice.
    I like how you have “monderized” communications by using text messages. It is so important for Caregivers to know that they have quick access to professionals on their careteam, you are providing that comfort through this service… BRAVO!
    Enjoy the holiday blog party and I will look forward to reading more of your sage advice.

    Chris MacLellan!

  4. Anthony, thank you for participating in the Holiday Progressive Blog Party. It’s a great way to learn about additional caregiver resources (you can never have too many). You make an excellent point about costly phone calls. I’m all for texting. Had to smile when I read your comment that lawyers are historically the slowest technology adopters. Getting my current lawyer to text would be like pulling teeth. (Oh well, he makes up for it with an awesome sense of humor, which is a big plus in my book.) I appreciate that you frame the discussion in the broader context of a lawyer-caregiver relationship and not simply “Mrs. So-and-So’s daughter.” Daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins — we are all caregivers. My current caregiving gig is taking care of my 54 year old husband, who has pancreatic cancer. But I do see some senior caregiving on the horizon — for my 76 year old father and my 78 year old MIL so I’m glad to learn about your site. My father has done an excellent job of making sue his affairs in order but my MIL not so much despite gentle suggestions she do so. Again, thanks for participating and I wish you a joyous holiday season.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Shelley and I am sorry to hear about your husband’s situation. You are right, we should not pigeonhole caregivers by defining them by the person for whom they provide care. It is great that you have a lawyer with a sense of humor, I find that so lacking in this profession, maybe it makes up for not being able to get the lawyer to text you!

  5. Hi, Popping over from the Caregiving.com Holiday Progressive Blog Party. Thank you for a very interesting and useful article for caregivers. Wise advice about technology! Our doctors are starting to do that as well and you are so right – it is a real time (and money)-saver for caregivers. Thank you.

    Kaye

  6. Asking your clients about their expectations for the services of an eldercare lawyer seems like a good way to help them think about what types of goals they should set with their attorney. I need to start thinking about how I would want a lawyer to represent my family now that my dad needs to be taken care of. You’re right about how important it is to have that conversation between lawyers and clients. That will really help develop a better relationship. Thanks for the tips!

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