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Legal Issue Spotting for Information and Referral Specialists . David Godfrey Senior Attorney American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging [email protected] . Getting to Know You. Name Program From Work Something we would never know about you if you didn’t tell us.

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legal issue spotting for information and referral specialists

Legal Issue Spotting for Information and Referral Specialists

David Godfrey

Senior Attorney

American Bar Association

Commission on Law and Aging

[email protected]

getting to know you
Getting to Know You
  • Name
  • Program
  • From
  • Work
  • Something we would never know about you if you didn’t tell us
why legal issue spotting
Why Legal Issue Spotting
  • Holistic view of client services
    • It takes a village to help a client
  • Integrated point of entry
    • One stop shop
    • Integrated referral networks
why legal issue spotting4
Why Legal Issue Spotting
  • Treating the cause rather then the symptoms
    • Many non-legal problems are caused by underlying issues with legal solutions
  • Many legal problems are not obvious
  • Many people are reluctant to admit that they have “legal problems”
  • A pattern of problems may lead to a legal problem with access to services and systems
no man is an island
No Man Is An Island
  • No one discipline has all of the answers
  • Build referral networks for better client service
  • Diverse services
    • In house
    • Referral networks
      • Formal
      • Informal
  • Develop the ability to identify obvious and hidden legal issues
  • Be able to identify underlying issues
  • Learn the basics of classifying legal issues for appropriate referral
objectives cont
Objectives (cont.)
  • Classify the urgency of situation/when legal deadlines are relevant
  • Understand the difference between legal advice and legal information and why the distinction is important
the easy calls
The easy calls
  • I need to talk to a lawyer
  • The other parent won’t allow me to see my child
  • I need a divorce
  • I need a Will and power of attorney
  • I have been hurt
  • I am being sued
  • I have been arrested
  • I’m being evicted
are there any easy calls
Are there any easy calls?
  • Self identified legal problem
  • Screen for:
    • Legal or non-legal
    • Urgency/Legaldeadlines
    • Other non-legal needs and services
    • Mental Health issues
    • Eligibility for public or other benefits
    • Classify for appropriate referral
looking for underlying causes
Looking for Underlying Causes
  • Social or health care problems that are being caused or aggravated by an underlying legal problem
  • Model: medical legal partnerships
medical legal roots
Medical Legal Roots
  • Example
    • Chronic ear infections
    • Landlord providing intermittent heat in winter
    • Fix the heat problem and the ear infections become less frequent
non medical example
Non-Medical Example
  • Caller needs help with food or paying utility bills.
  • Standard solution is to connect with food or utility assistance
  • Holistic approach is to look for a underlying or a systemic issue
look for problems with
Look for problems with
  • Income
  • Exploitation
  • Abuse
  • Living conditions
  • Debts
  • That complicate or aggravate health problems or interfere with independence and quality of life
systemic issues
Systemic Issues
  • System wide pattern or practice that results in impairment of legal rights
  • Unfairly denying access to benefits
  • Interpretation of law or rules
  • Office or service access issues
  • Illegal discrimination
possible systemic causes
Possible Systemic Causes
  • Look for patterns of problems
    • Landlords
    • Courts
    • Agencies (public and private social services)
    • Individuals
  • Consistently wrong answers
  • Denial of service
  • Unmet need
  • Disparate Treatment
what are we seeking
What are we seeking
  • Policy change
  • Management
  • Project development
  • Regulations and statutes
  • Community initiative
  • Faith and community based organizations
  • Class action
case studies
Case Studies
  • Small Groups
  • Only one case per group
  • 15 minutes in small groups
  • Answer the questions at the end and any comments
  • Select a spokesperson to report
looking for hidden issues
Looking for hidden issues
  • Problems come in clusters
  • People seek help for the most recent or most pressing problem
screening questions
Screening Questions
  • Income
  • Assets
  • What are they spending their money on
    • Detail is important
  • Changes in personal and household income
  • Changes in family status
  • Ask aboutat debts – mortgage issues
why money
Why Money?
  • Are they entitled to:
  • Income
  • Benefits
  • Assistance
  • Are they being exploited?
income screening may be entitled to benefits
Income ScreeningMay be entitled to benefits
  • SSI (disabled and household income below limits)
    • Single $674 Couple $1011
    • Minimal savings
  • SSDI (past work history, recently became permanently and totally unable to work)
    • Under age 62
    • Must have worked in covered employment
    • Rules have changed on how long they must have worked
    • And
    • How recently they must have worked
Child Support (biological parent not living with child)
    • Minor child in home
    • Uncollected past support
  • Medicare Savings Plans (QMB, SLMB) (income and assets)
    • $866.67/ $1,166.67
    • $1,040 / $1,400
  • Food Stamps (supplemental nutritional assistance Program SNAP)
  • Access Florida
Housing assistance (various age or disability plus income &asset limits)
  • Utility Assistance (age, disability plus low income & assets)
  • Home repair (various age, disability, income and assets)
tax exemptions
Tax Exemptions
  • Tax exemptions, credits, deferrals (age, disability)
  • State law entitles you to apply for an additional exemption as a widow/widower. Certain specified medical disabilities may also qualify for an additional exemption.
  • In addition, residents 65 and over whose adjusted household income is in compliance with Florida Law (Section 196.075) may apply for an additional senior's exemption.
    • Work history – past efforts to collect
    • Employers gone out of business, merged, changed names
    • Surviving spouse
  • Lost benefits (SSI, SSDI, Medicaid)
    • Have benefits been terminated or reduced
    • Examine the reason why they were lost or reduced
home equity conversion mortgage
Home Equity Conversion Mortgage
  • Reverse mortgage
    • At least age 62
    • Significant equity in home (worth at least 1/3 more then is owed on it)
    • Counsel to assure that this is a relatively long term solution
status of applications have they applied

Are they likely to be eligible

Do they need help applying

Is there an underlying issue that needs to be resolved before they can apply

Barriers to applying


What is the status

Is there something missing

Have they been denied

If so why

Might there be a legal solution to the reason for the denial

Can the facts be restructured

Status of applicationsHave they applied?

Look for patterns of problems

  • Car loans
  • Mortgages
  • Default balances
  • Credits cards
  • Student loans
  • Judgments or collections
can they take away my income
Can they take away my income?
  • Garnishment of income
    • Exemptions SSA, SSI, Federal Pensions
    • Exception: Debts owed to the Federal Government
    • But, even then there are limits
    • Bank accounts
    • If they have received a notice of garnishment action is time critical URGENT
other debts issues
Other debts issues
  • Co-signed loans
    • Student loans
    • Car loans
    • Personal loans
    • Mortgages
  • Debts of a deceased spouse
    • What name is it in, did the deceased own anything at the time of death
  • Term life insurance
should they file bankruptcy
Should they file Bankruptcy
  • Is there any other reasonable way that they can repay the debts?
  • If not:
  • Would they be able to repay all debts within 5 years?
  • Or
  • Lower income cancel all debts and start over
  • Higher income, partial cancellation of debts
  • BR exemptions are state specific and vary dramatically from state to state.
consumer styles seeking help
Consumer styles: Seeking Help
  • Seek help to make good decisions to avoid problems
  • Seek help when they have a problem
  • Seek help only in a moment of crisis
The Boy Who Cried Wolf

There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself he took a great breath and sang out, "Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!"

The villagers came running up the hill to help the boy drive the wolf away. But when they arrived at the top of the hill, they found no wolf. The boy laughed at the sight of their angry faces.

"Don't cry 'wolf', shepherd boy," said the villagers, "when there's no wolf!" They went grumbling back down the hill.

Later, the boy sang out again, "Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!" To his naughty delight, he watched the villagers run up the hill to help him drive the wolf away.

When the villagers saw no wolf they sternly said, "Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don't cry 'wolf' when there is NO wolf!"

But the boy just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the hill once more.

Later, he saw a REAL wolf prowling about his flock. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, "Wolf! Wolf!"

But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn't come.

At sunset, everyone wondered why the shepherd boy hadn't returned to the village with their sheep. They went up the hill to find the boy. They found him weeping.

"There really was a wolf here! The flock has scattered! I cried out, "Wolf!" Why didn't you come?"

An old man tried to comfort the boy as they walked back to the village.

"We'll help you look for the lost sheep in the morning," he said, putting his arm around the youth, "Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!"

frequent flyer club is the caller crying wolf
Frequent Flyer Club Is the caller crying “wolf”?
  • Don’t Make Assumptions
  • Listen with an open mind
  • Use “active listening” techniques
  • Ask probing questions
  • Identify/test caller’s ultimate goal
  • Use inclusive rather than exclusive mind set (i.e. is there some way I can help this person?)
  • If necessary, use de-escalation and focusing tools
with a frequent flyer look for
With a Frequent Flyer Look For
  • New issue that you can help with
  • Change in circumstances
  • Is underlying problem still unresolved
  • If irresolvable, counseling
  • When to fire the client
  • If they don’t get help within 24-72 hours:
    • The caller will lose legal rights or options
  • or
    • The caller’s health and safety are at imminent risk of harm
urgency emergencies
Urgency / Emergencies
  • Has recently received notice that they are being sued
  • Has a pending court appearance, summons or subpoena
  • Has a notice of sale or garnishment
Domestic Violence
  • Caregiver neglect
  • Self Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Active financial exploitation
urgency emergency
Urgency / Emergency
  • Notice of discharge from health care
  • Has lost case and wants to know what’s next (limited time to appeal)
  • Has a notice to vacate housing
urgencies continued
Urgencies (continued)
  • Caller has been threatened with:
    • Eviction, locks changed, unable to live in apartment or home due to conditions
    • Utilities being shut off/already off
    • Benefits being reduced/informal “conference” scheduled / Medicaid, food stamps, SSI termination notices
    • (Talk to providers about what emergency responses are available-document unmet need)
other urgent matters
Other Urgent Matters
  • Unable to access essential services
  • If “door to door” phone solicitation sale was made within 2-3 days (varies by state)
  • If client unable to be contacted later safely-calling on sly, from a phone booth, etc.
  • Client extremely ill and needs planning docs (hospice patients)
  • Stopping caller from action with unintended legal consequences (for example transfer of assets)
abuse neglect and exploitation
Abuse Neglect and Exploitation
  • Relative/caregiver taking money
  • Caller fearful of relative or caregiver
  • Caller threatened with eviction because of condition of home
  • Guardianship has been filed or is being considered
  • Caller being urged to sign legal documents against will (DON’T SIGN ANYTHING!)
red flags
Red Flags
  • The following are “Red Flags”
    • Property transfers contemplated
    • Suit or court papers received
    • Loss of home or benefits
    • Concern for safety expressed
    • Credit “Repair”
    • Home loans/short-term loans
    • Home as security
find out about deadlines
Find Out About Deadlines
  • Start by reading the paperwork
  • Filing an answer to a lawsuit
  • Appealing an administrative decision
  • Appealing a garnishment or attachment
  • In home sales (check your state)
  • Contesting a credit card charge (30-60 days)
  • Filing a lawsuit (shortest is about 6 months)
time is a factor but not legally urgent
Time is a Factorbut not Legally Urgent
  • When:
    • Debt collectors calling
    • Caller lost job due to discrimination/non-accommodation
    • Caller unable to make mortgage payments
    • EOB for Medicare services not received
    • Unauthorized charges on accounts (ID Theft) (Triage advice: call and send written notice to creditor immediately)
    • Grandchildren in need of care or services
    • Medicaid long term care asset issues, (Do not apply, spend money or transfer assets until you get advice)
not urgent
Not Urgent
  • Wants to file a legal action
    • (except statute of limitations)
  • Case is pending, taking too long, tired of waiting
  • Needs money, housing, benefits (except homelessness and emergency food, or prescriptions)
  • Angry or upset with _______X________
  • Something that happened many years ago with no recent change of circumstances
caller may feel urgent
Caller may feel urgent
  • May not need immediate action
    • situations that are distressing for client/caller, but can safely be handled when time permits
    • Situations that involve planning
    • Initial application for benefits
    • Changes to current legal arrangements
    • Concerns about consumer services where initial complaint has been made
    • Bills for a deceased relative
    • Cases where time is not a factor
difference between important urgency and legal urgency
Difference Between Important /Urgency and Legal Urgency
  • Time is a factor but case not legally urgent
    • See examples above
  • Legal Urgency is:
    • Determined by statutes of limitation and procedural rules
    • Where filing appeal may preserve benefits while case under review
    • To prevent irreparable harm to client (protect housing, health or safety)
emergency services
Emergency Services
  • Plan in advance with providers
  • Know the capacity of the provider
  • Under promise and over deliver
  • Know how to get past the gatekeeper
safety plan
Where can you send a client in crisis



Community resources


Cash / bank access

Credit Cards


Medical needs




Safe place to stay

Safety Plan
intersection of legal and social issues
Intersection of Legal and Social Issues
  • Legal and non-legal needs
  • Intertwined
  • Overlapping
  • More than one answer
other needs and services
Other needs and services
  • What else is happening in this person’s life that you might address?
  • Be holistic
    • Social
    • Mental
    • Physical
    • Legal
    • Financial
teasing it out some questions to ask
Teasing it out:Some Questions to Ask
  • When did this happen?
    • Timing is very important
  • Have you received something from anyone? (they may not tell you)
    • When
    • Dated
    • Looking for mail, notices hand delivered or left on door
  • Are you worried about your safety?
questions to ask
Questions to ask
  • Is someone threatening you?
    • Who, how, when in what way?
  • Has there been a change in income, health care coverage, housing
    • You are looking for a termination of reduction in a benefit?
  • Change in family status?
    • Loss of a spouse may result in loss of income
    • Marriage or someone moving in to live with the client
    • New child or child leaving home
other issues to address
Other Issues to Address
  • Identifying the client
    • Third party callers or concerns
    • On a referral who will the provider talk to
    • What if both are eligible for services
  • Identifying adverse parties (guardianship cases, public housing disputes w/other residents)
getting a client help from a legal provider or agency
Getting a Client Help from a Legal Provider or Agency
  • Referral/Warm handoff
    • Conference call
    • Let me have them call you
    • Cold referral – call this number for help
  • Following Up
    • Role Confidentiality plays for Legal Providers
    • Update handoff protocol where needed
legal advice and legal information
Legal Advice and Legal Information
  • Legal Information:
    • Not fact specific
    • Definitions NOT interpretations (what the law says, not what it means)
    • Examples of forms –not which form to use
    • Questions about forms-not completing them for someone
    • How court works- what is involved-not how court will rule
    • General referrals-not specific recommendations
    • Anyone can distribute legal information
sources of legal information
Sources of Legal Information
  • Senior Citizens Handbooks
    • Often sponsored by bar association
    • Available in most states
  • Civil legal services websites
    • All states have them
    • Usually sponsored by Legal Services, Legal Aid or Pro Bono, title IIIb providers
    • Low income information and usually 60+ section
    • Check to see when page last updated
legal advice
Legal Advice
  • Legal Advice:
    • Is fact specific
    • Involves judgment or interpretation
    • Answers question of “what should I do?”
    • Includes recommendations about legal course of action
    • Includes performing legal research
    • Leads caller to think they are being represented by lawyer
  • Legal Hotline
  • Understanding Legal Referral Protocols
    • Understand what kinds of cases they will take
    • Client eligibility rules
    • Intake procedures for new clients
    • What, how, when and where
    • Who will they talk to
    • Ways to avoid client bounce/assure help is received
    • Share info about unmet legal needs/lack of good referrals
how to network with legal service providers
How to network with legal service providers
  • Title IIIb
  • LSC
  • Other non-profits
  • Cross training
  • Program visits
  • Formal v. informal referral agreements
tips for working with lawyers
Tips for working with lawyers
  • Open the conversation with the legal issue
  • Facts are vital
  • Mental Capacity is important
  • Health and social status have limited relevance
  • Can only talk to one person about each legal situation
  • If they talk to both sides, they may not be able to help either side
  • Fighters not referees
public benefits screening tools
Public Benefits Screening tools
moving forward
Moving forward
  • Identify legal service providers
  • Build relationships with them
  • Learn what kinds of issues and clients they can help
  • Collaborate on training intake and referral staff (using this as a starting point)
  • Cross train
  • Use a holistic approach
thank you
Thank You!

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