Any elder law firm that offers Life Care Planning relies on a team of legal and non-legal professionals who work together to support and guide families during an elderly loved one’s long-term care journey. What role do paralegals play in the process?
To answer this question, we consulted Lisa Sparks, a paralegal at Kimbrough Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm with offices in Athens and Gainesville, Georgia.
Lisa’s duties include many of the same tasks that paralegals perform in traditional elder law firms. She coordinates interactions between attorneys and clients, prepares legal documents for attorneys to review, prepares documentation for client VA benefits or Medicaid benefit applications, coordinates the document review process with clients, and sets up document signing appointments. “Once all the documents are signed, I’ll meet with clients to make sure they understand what their next steps will be,” notes Lisa.
Like many paralegals working in Life Care Planning Law Firms, Lisa has experience working for the firm before Life Care Planning became a part of its service menu. Lisa began working with Kimbrough Law founder William H. (Kim) Kimbrough, Jr. in 2012 when his practice focused primarily on VA benefits and estate planning. “The addition of Life Care Planning has changed my role quite a bit,” Lisa admits. “Though many of the tasks I perform are the same, the role I play and the responsibility I have to the client are substantially different.”
The team approach creates one difference. “It used to be that I was the only person directly dealing with the client and there was no one else to keep in the loop,” remembers Lisa. “Now, when I meet with clients, I’m listening carefully and sharing what I hear with the attorney and care coordinator on the case.”
Life Care Planning’s big-picture focus creates another difference. “When I’m talking to clients, I have to remember that we're doing more than just creating legal documents,” says Lisa. “We're also coordinating care and providing a support system. Before we offered Life Care Planning, families would often ask me for help with challenges related to a loved one’s care. Though I was always willing to listen, I would have to say, ‘Well, we really don’t do that here.’ But today, if a client mentions a concern about care, I let the elder care coordinator know and she is usually able to help the family resolve the issue.”
Lisa also recognizes that she now has a greater responsibility to clients. “We’re not just doing a single legal transaction for the client,” Lisa notes. “Life Care Planning involves a long-term relationship between our firm, the older adult, and his or her family caregivers. We’re helping families navigate the elder care journey, which can be complicated with many different steps along the way.”
Seeing the relief on the faces of clients and their families tops the list of things Lisa likes most about being a paralegal in a Life Care Planning Law Firm. “The legal documents seem to be just so daunting,” says Lisa. “Our elderly clients and their families are dealing with some of the hardest things life dishes out—aging, illness, disability, and death—and they’re often at their most vulnerable. I love knowing that our team is walking alongside them to support them. It’s incredibly rewarding.”