Adeline Schiralli loves Elder Law. It’s one of the few areas of law that, in her experience, affords the opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive. A day in her work life can range from reviewing contracts for entry into a retirement village, applications for guardianship orders, or assistance with incapacity documents and advanced care directives. For Adeline, it’s an opportunity to help people at a critical point in their lives make profoundly important decisions concerning their quality of life and care. Insights spoke to Adeline about how she got into Elder Law and her advice to lawyers looking to move into this growing field.
Elder Law a good fit for Estate Planning
Adeline says she ‘fell’ into Elder Law by what was largely a stroke of luck.
“Prior to my admission as a solicitor, in my final year of university, I commenced as a paralegal in the Wills & Estate Planning Team of a local suburban firm and have worked almost exclusively in this field ever since,” said Adeline. “I’ve never looked back.”
Her passion for Elder Law emerged as an extension of her Estate Planning practice early in her career. “There are many similarities and crossovers between the two areas of practice, and they fit well together,” explained Adeline. “Particularly in the area of aged accommodation, I was drawn to the impact proper legal advice can have on a client.
Quite often, retirement village contracts and aged care agreements are filled with legal jargon, terms, and conditions that a client may need assistance understanding before they make what could be one of the biggest financial decisions in their life.”
No day is the same in Elder Law
Since then, Adeline became an Accredited Specialist in Wills & Estates Law and is now Consulting Principal of an award-winning law firm, Keypoint Law. In addition to working as an Estate Planning and Elder Law Solicitor, she also teaches Elder Law in the Wills & Estates major of the College’s Master of Law (Applied Law).
“The role of an Elder Law solicitor involves assisting elderly clients - including, at times, their families - navigate the world of aged accommodation, the delegation of authority, capacity, elder law disputes, and sometimes, unfortunately, elder abuse issues, amongst other matters,” said Adeline.
The role means Adeline meets people from many different walks of life, gaining an insight into their family and personal lives.
“This is very interesting,” said Adeline. “Most of the time, wearing my ‘Elder Law hat’, I assist clients with incapacity documents, which can include powers of attorney, appointments of enduring guardian, and advanced care directives. I also review contracts for their entry or the entry of a loved one into a retirement village or aged care facility. I have also assisted clients with applications to the Guardianship Division of the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to instigate financial management and guardianship orders or to defend such applications.”
Proactive problem-solving inspires creativity
Elder Law and Estate Planning, by definition, involve forethought and planning. For Adeline, this is refreshing.
“Most areas of law are ‘reactive’, meaning that a client comes to see a solicitor because they have a usually urgent problem that they need help solving or litigating against,” explained Adeline. “By contrast, I refer to Estate Planning and Elder Law as being mostly “proactive” areas of law.
“More often than not, clients come to see me not because they have a problem right now, but because they want to put their affairs in order to try and avoid problems in the future. It’s a proactive problem-solving area of the law and requires you to sometimes think out of the box to achieve the client’s objectives. No two clients come to you with the same set of circumstances, and therefore no two outcomes are the same.
“This keeps things very interesting, and I learn and develop new ways to tackle issues all the time. I enjoy this mental challenge as well as being face to face with real clients every day.”
Gain a mentor to understand Elder Law
There are many dimensions to Elder Law. By its very nature, it touches upon a variety of areas, including property law and family law.
“Due to this, it is important for anyone who wishes to move into this field to understand what Elder Law is all about and to gain first-hand experience in this area,” advised Adeline. “The best way to do this is to align yourself with a mentor who has years of experience in Elder Law and can guide you through all the different elements that you may come across.”
Your mentor may not be someone you work with, though this can make it easier.
“There are many practitioners who are more than happy to give up their time to mentor someone passionate about this area of law, particularly if they are passionate also,” observed Adeline.
Staying up to date with Elder Law is also crucial, as it is an area both growing and subject to change.
“Attending seminars, webinars, or conferences by leading practitioners in this area is a good start,” suggested Adeline. “The College of Law also offers an Elder Law subject as part of its Master of Laws (Wills & Estates) which would be very beneficial for anyone starting out in this field.”
Having graduated from the College of Law LLM in 2017, she now teaches Elder Law.
“As a student, I found the course to be very comprehensive, and it provided me with excellent resources to sharpen my skills in this area.”
Keep an open mind, stay resilient, study and volunteer
“It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way society functions in everyday life and in particular in the workplace,” observed Adeline.
Many graduating students may be worried about the nation’s unemployment rates. “Getting through the final year of law school, which is a challenging enough task on its own, during a pandemic shows resilience. It’s a trait that will not be lost on prospective employers,” said Adeline.
“My advice to graduating during the so-called ‘Coronavirus Recession’ is to seize the day and take this opportunity to explore different areas of law, even in a voluntary capacity,” advised Adeline. “You never know where your passion may be found. I certainly didn’t see myself practising in the area of Estate Planning & Elder Law when I was at university, but I gave it a go and was lucky to have found my passion early on.
“This time is also an opportunity to consider further education to give you the edge over others that may not be so motivated. Many postgraduate institutions, including the College of Law, have many programs that may assist you in this regard.”