From public defender representing people accused of murder to elder law attorney helping older adults get care. No, it’s not the plot of a TV drama, it’s the career trajectory of Kathleen Flammia, founder of the Flammia Elder Law Firm, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Winter Park, Florida.
Flammia, now a Florida Bar Board Certified Elder Law Attorney, started her career as a public defender. “I wanted to help people who were the underdogs,” remembers Kathleen. “During those years, I gained a lot of courtroom experience, and learned how to deal with people and interview them. But I got tired of going to the county jail and defending people charged with first degree murder who were looking at the death penalty. It just got old.”
Kathleen decided to explore other areas of the law. After completing an elder law seminar, Kathleen saw a light at the end of the tunnel. “That’s when I realized that I could actually help people without having to go to the jail,” she laughs. “I was ready to give up the courtroom. I liked the fact that elder law attorneys often help people who’ve never been to a lawyer before.”
Though Kathleen knew immediately that her decision to transition to elder law and estate planning was the right one, she quickly discovered that something was missing. “It was easy to help an older client qualify for a Medicaid or a Veterans claim, or to do estate planning for people who had been just diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease,” recalls Kathleen. “But once they left my conference room, I knew that they were walking into a maze of the unknown with no idea how to navigate it.”
To give clients the support they needed once their legal documents were complete, Kathleen began to rely on independent geriatric care managers. “They did assessments of elderly clients, helped locate long-term care facilities, accompanied families to care meetings at nursing homes, assisted with transitions from one level of care to the next, and many other things,” Kathleen recalls. “But I wasn’t getting the level of detail that I wanted from them. I would get a nice written report, but I always felt like I didn't know what was really going on with my clients. I wanted to know what was happening and how they were doing. All I would hear was, ‘Oh, thanks for the referral. I found your client a nursing home. Goodbye.’"
For Kathleen, it just wasn’t enough. So, she added Life Care Planning to her list of practice areas and brought the care management duties in-house. “I can always help my clients access public benefits,” notes Kathleen, “but my elder care coordinator is equipped to help families manage the personal care-related challenges like finding a long-term care facility, learning how the facility care works, and dealing with the guilt caregivers often feel when they’re making a placement. My elder care coordinator helps them navigate all of that—and more—and she works for me, which means I stay very close to the client’s situation, which is exactly what I want.”
Kathleen’s experience as a professional advocate in the most demanding circumstances gives her clients an added measure of confidence, and she loves applying her advocacy skills in the elder law arena. “It used to be that if I saw one of my particularly seedy criminal defense clients on the street, I would cross the street to avoid him,” she laughs. “Today, my clients are people that I look forward to having a meal with. They’ve become friends. When it comes to quality of life, it’s hard to beat what I do.”