The Importance Of Recognizing A Legal Issue

By Fred Freeman, Elder Law Clinic Student, Spring 2015

During the summer of 2014, I worked for the City Attorney’s Office in Norfolk, Virginia.  While there, I spent a lot of time in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, spending a significant portion of my summer researching and dealing with cases involving guardianships and abuse of adolescents.  However, I never had any contact with the juvenile clients we were representing, outside of sometimes seeing them sit in front of a judge.  Since joining the Elder Law Clinic, I have been assigned two possible cases of elder abuse, and I now realize how many issues lawyers actually face when dealing with abuse claims.

Unfortunately, as a current student in the Elder Law Clinic, and as a future lawyer, I know that not every case that comes across my desk can be accepted.  This does not mean that some cases won’t tug at the heartstrings.  Recently, I met with a woman who has faced possible mistreatment at the hands of her landlord, including claims of verbal and financial abuse.  However, her claims are mostly based upon her statements alone, and there is not much we can do for her besides try and get her out of her lease agreement.  I also had a client who claimed his daughter might be stealing from him, but his Alzheimer’s raises issues regarding the validity of his statements.  After meeting with both of these prospective clients, my first instinct was to do everything I could to help them reach their happy endings, but this isn’t always possible.

In the end there wasn’t much to be done for either of them.  There was both a lack of evidence and a real legal precedent to pursue action.  When I worked for the City Attorney, all the cases I dealt with had already begun, with evidence of abuse, and the necessity of legal action already proven inside and outside of court.  I never had to face the possibility of a potential client who may be suffering, yet has no real recourse.  During my experience with the Elder Law Clinic, I have discovered the importance of laying the foundation for a case.  The potential clients I mentioned earlier may not be able to find a solution to their problems without showing more to support their claims.  Hopefully we will be able to support them both in laying a foundation for, and carrying out a plan to help them achieve their goals.

My experience at the Elder Law clinic has taught me to always search for the issue for which I can provide assistance.  Getting caught up in the turmoil of emotions and troubles that your client has may end up clouding the actual problem, and lead to ineffective counsel.  It is important to remember that without a legal issue to pursue, we may be left powerless to help those who really need it, and the Elder Law Clinic strives to find these issues in every potential case.