In the Elder and Health Law Clinic, students represent people over 60 years of age with issues unique to the aging population, including nursing home residents' rights, alternatives to conservatorship, health care access, social security, Medicare/Medi-Cal, estate planning, and elder abuse. In addition, students may focus on the civil legal needs of those experiencing homelessness, regardless of age, as part of a Medical Legal Partnership with community health clinics and shelters. These needs include expungement of criminal records, reduction of fines fees, access to public benefits and child support modification.
The issues presented by cases in the Elder and Health Law Clinic challenge views of aging in our society and demonstrate how sound counsel and advocacy will have a beneficial impact on community elders. Many of the cases call upon the student attorney to consider the practicality of alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve legal matters. Elder law (including health issues for the elderly) is one of the country's growing areas of legal specialization. Students acquire a command of complicated substantive state and federal law, as well as a high level of ethical competence. Many cases require an interdisciplinary approach to lawyering, where clinic students have the opportunity to represent elders in court and on transactional matters concerning planning for death, incapacity and a variety of other issues.
The Elder and Health Law Clinic has received much public acclaim for excellence. It is one of a select few law school elder law programs in California to receive a 2011 cy près award. The cy près funding enabled the Clinic to hire a Clinical Legal Fellow to develop an elder financial abuse community education and advocacy component. The Clinic also received the 2011 Making a Difference award from the Sacramento County Mental Health Older Adult Committee at the 31st annual Mental Health Aging Conference. What students learn in related academic classes enriches their clinical experience. Melissa Brown is an experienced practitioner in elder law and brings her practice examples to the classroom. Professor J. Clark Kelso and talented adjunct faculty practitioners who teach health law courses help students integrate academic theory and practical experience. Students then use this integrated experience in real cases in the Elder and Health Law Clinic.
"My clinic experience provided me with real life situations and not the typical classroom environment. I interviewed clients, conducted factual investigation and legal research for my cases, drafted legal documents and pleadings, and represented clients at hearings. I was able to see how legal issues play out and are resolved in the real world, and as a result I am a better prepared attorney."
— Cheryl Robertson '10, Litigation Attorney at Girardi & Keese
Melissa Brown brings a wealth of personal casework experience to her students in the academic Elder Law and Social Policy course and in the Clinic. In her 28 years of private legal practice she has served as an arbitrator for workers' compensation matters and has litigated cases in state and federal court. Brown is well known as a national expert on Elder Law and Social Security Disability, as well as health care planning and decision-making, and is co-author of the widely-used book, Advising the Elderly or Disabled Client.
"Clinic work is the perfect experience for our students - a combination of advocacy, ethics and professional growth. Best of all, there are some very grateful clients who couldn't have this level of representation and care without us."
— Melissa Brown, Associate Professor of Lawyering Skills