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Best Practice

Vol. 10, nos. 1 & 2

On Delivery of Legal Assistance to Older Persons

December 1999

Legal Services Developers: The Key to a Strong Elder Rights System

By: Matthew G. Batista, J.D.
TCSG Staff Attorney

The position of Legal Services Developer (LSD) is a crucial, yet often misunderstood part of the Aging Network. Through our work with LSDs, the National Association of Legal Services Developers (NALSD), and the Aging Network as a whole, we have seen the variance of the position from state to state -- the range of activities undertaken, the amount of staff time devoted to the position, its place in each state's Aging Network system, etc. -- that has resulted largely from the lack of specificity in the Older Americans Act (hereafter OAA or Act). This variation from state-to-state has been the norm since the inception of the position, and it, along with other recent developments, namely Congressional attempts to reauthorize the OAA (see Section I. below), and a survey undertaken by Natalie Thomas, the Georgia LSD, demonstrating the lack of understanding actors in the Aging Network have of the LSD (see Natalie's comments following this article) give cause to discuss the Legal Services Developer position and underscore the crucial role LSDs play in the Aging Network.

It is for this purpose -- to emphasize the importance of the position of Legal Services Developer, as well as the goals they seek in fulfilling the requirements of the Older Americans Act (OAA or Act) -- that we present this article. To aid in fully understanding the LSD as the key to providing a strong elder rights system, and to encourage LSDs and states to solidify the role of the LSD, we provide an in-depth look at the position.

I. Statutory Underpinnings of the Position1

As originally enacted in 1965, the OAA did not specifically mention legal services as one of the services to be provided. It was not until regulations were developed for implementation of the 1973 Comprehensive Services Amendments that the definition of Title III social services included legal services. In 1975, Congress increased the appropriations for the Title III program by $9 million, $1 million of which was to be used for model projects to strengthen legal representation for older persons. As a result, the Administration on Aging (AoA) undertook its first systematic effort to develop legal services on a nationwide basis. To maximize the use of these funds, AoA supported (1) four innovative services delivery Model Projects; and (2) seven projects to provide technical assistance (TA) to State and Area Agencies on Aging on the inclusion of legal services components in annual State plans, and to provide the Aging Network with resource materials to train attorneys and paralegals providing legal services for the elderly.

As these eleven model projects were being implemented, Congress was seriously considering the future of legal services in the 1975 Amendments to the Act. As a result, (1) legal services was identified as one of four priority service areas under Title III; and (2) specific language relating to the training of lawyers and paralegals was added to Title IVA. In June 1976, 6 awards were made under the Title IVA program. These awards were made primarily to grantees which had been funded under the Model Projects program one year earlier. The emphasis of the IVA projects was on specific materials development and training events for lay advocates, paralegals, law students or lawyers. In some cases, grantees funded under Title IVA continued to also receive Title III, § 308 funding.

Also in June 1976, AoA issued a Program Instruction announcing the State Legal Services Development Program. The purpose of this program, similar to the earlier State Ombudsman Model Projects, was to build the capacity for leadership in the State Agencies on Aging to promote legal services for the elderly within each State. Model Project funds totaling $1.125 million were reserved for 9-month projects to begin January 1, 1977, and end September 30, 1977. AoA also announced the continuation of five of the original eleven Model Projects grantees specifically for TA purposes. The following activities for the Legal Services Developers were defined in an August, 1976 TA Memorandum (AoA-TA-76-42):

  1. Working with Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) in order to help them design legal services programs for older persons and to assist them in developing plans for the implementation of such programs by public or private agencies;
  2. Assisting LSC offices and/or legal aid programs to expand services and outreach efforts to eligible elderly clients and to design and secure funding for programs which would serve all older persons;
  3. Assisting AAAs in involving the private bar in increasing legal representation to older people;
  4. Stimulating law schools and other educational institutions to provide research, law related training, and/or direct client services to the elderly;
  5. Designing and coordinating through State and Area Agencies on Aging, legal and aging training programs for State and Area Agency Staff and grantees, paralegals, lawyers, and older persons;
  6. Providing assistance in developing legal back-up to the nursing home ombudsman programs at the area level;
  7. Working with the State Agency, AAAs, and other interested parties on research, drafts, testimony, advocacy and monitoring for legislation at all levels that benefits the elderly.

Because of the difficulties associated with starting this new program and with hiring Developers, many Developers did not even begin working until shortly before September 30, 1977. Convinced, however, of the importance of developing State leadership in this area, AoA reserved $1.5 million to continue the program from 10/1/77 though 9/30/78.2

In late 1978, AoA established the Older Americans Advocacy Assistance (OAAA) Program. The OAAA Program was intended to continue and enhance AoA's support for State agency leadership in legal (and ombudsman) services. It combined legal and ombudsman efforts "into a common framework in order to maximize their interrelationship, improve coordination, and more effectively deal with the concerns of institutionalized and non-institutionalized vulnerable elderly."3 The OAAA program was described as:

. . . a comprehensive system of State and community-based advocacy services designed to maximize the capacity of the aging network and older persons to secure:

8. access to the existing rights, benefits and entitlements under Federal, State and local laws essential to the freedom and enjoyment of a full life for institutionalized and non-institutionalized older persons; and 9. favorable changes and/or the development of new rights, benefits, and entitlements for institutionalized and non-institutionalized older persons. 4

AoA set up a new Advocacy Assistance Unit in its Office of Special Programs to work on this effort. It issued guidance in the form of Program Instructions to State agencies each year from 1978 to 1984. The states prepared proposals and received OAAA grants for State Legal Services Developers and ombudsmen to undertake the efforts indicated in the Program Instruction.

AoA ended the OAAA program when Congress, as part of the 1984 Amendments to the Act, moved funds for State Legal Services Developers from Title IV to Title III, State administrative funds. The 1984 Amendments also added a requirement that each State Agency on Aging "assign personnel to provide State leadership in developing legal assistance programs for the elderly throughout the State."

With the 1992 Reauthorization of the Act, Congress for the first time specifically recognized Developers and their importance. The Amendments added new provisions to Title III and included provisions in the new Elder Rights Title (Title VII) of the Act, requiring that all States have a Legal Services Developer (LSD).5 Title III indicates that states must have a Developer and other personnel "to provide State leadership in developing legal assistance programs for older individuals throughout the State."6 Title VII has a similar requirement and also delineates some specific responsibilities, stating that all State agencies must "provide an individual who shall be known as a State Legal Assistance Developer, and other personnel sufficient to ensure" that the State has the capacity and will provide--

This Title VII provision is particularly important because it begins to define specific responsibilities for State agencies in developing a statewide legal advocacy system and, for the first time, it requires all States to have an LSD to carry out those responsibilities. Further, it recognizes the magnitude of the task, and requires states to have sufficient other personnel to accomplish it.

In other words, Title VII anticipates that the Developer will be a major player in the elder rights advocacy system. Chapter 4 of Title VII sets forth, with some specificity, what States must do to be effective advocates themselves and to establish and maintain effective advocacy systems. In explaining chapter 4 of Title VII, the Senate Report on the proposed 1992 OAA Amendments states:

The Committee believes that the Aging Network, through the statewide leadership of State agencies on aging have crucial roles to play in promoting and protecting the rights of older individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable due to such factors as their economic status, frailty including dementias, and lack of knowledge about rights and avenues for redress of grievances. . . . the Committee expects that States will provide leadership in assuring that state and local systems . . . are responsive and effective in meeting the needs of elders and in protecting their rights. . . . The Committee compliments State agencies on aging for their commitment to providing such services through legal services developers . . . [and] expects that States will build upon and enhance those efforts under this program. In recognition of the unique nature of legal assistance services, the Committee emphasizes the importance of States working closely with area agencies on aging and legal assistance providers.... It is the Committee's intent that such activities will increase access by older individuals to legal assistance and other advocacy and elder rights services.8 [Emph. added]

The OAA has not been reauthorized since 1992, although several attempts have been made since then ranging from "straight reauthorization" bills (i.e. renewing the Act "as is") to bills that would radically change the Act. In 1999, reauthorization activity in the 106th Congress was high, although ultimately all attempts either died or were pulled by leadership. Nevertheless, several of the proposed bills in the 106th Congress posed serious threats to elder rights advocacy, which, as discussed above, is a key function of Legal Services Developers as a whole.

While all of the reauthorization bills introduced in the 106th Congress included the current provision in Title III that establishes the position of Legal Services Developer, several proposed to either eliminate completely or make optional Chapter 4 of Title VII, which establishes the State Elder Rights and Legal Assistance Development program. Title VII was added in 1992 as a means of revitalizing and emphasizing the original intent of the OAA that advocacy on behalf of the rights of older Americans is an essential role of the Aging Network. Chapter 4 is the elder rights umbrella which gives cohesion to the discrete elder rights programs set forth in the Title VII -- ombudsman, elder rights advocacy, legal services development, elder abuse protection, health insurance and pension counseling. Without this umbrella to Title VII, the OAA elder rights programs would lack the cohesion that is so crucial to coordinated elder rights efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable older Americans.

If nothing else, the reauthorization activity of the 106th Congress should serve as a "wake-up call" to Developers and the Aging Network that such detrimental change is possible. Although reading Congressional tea leaves is difficult and risky, this past year's reauthorization activities at best demonstrate the sentiment of some on Capitol Hill and at worst could foreshadow future goals/actions.

II. Roles of the Legal Services Developer

Just as the LSD position as a whole varies from state-to-state, the roles LSDs play in each states' system varies as well. The OAA does provide some guidance as to what activities should be included in State Elder Rights and Legal Assistance Development programs.9 Who conducts these activities, however, varies considerably. It is arguable, and in fact is argued by TCSG, NALSD and others that the LSD, as the focal point of the legal assistance development, should be the individual charged with the activities discussed below. Therefore, the roles of an LSD are discussed below in terms of LSD "best practices," i.e. as if they are completely conducted by LSDs. In reality, most are carried out to some degree by all LSDs, however, the descriptions below address what we believe is an optimal level of activity.

A. Legal Program Development Work with Legal Services Providers and AAAs

A key role that distinguishes the LSD from legal service providers and other advocates for the elderly is that s/he is the one person in the state who must conceptualize, and then focus on implementing, a statewide vision of the delivery of legal advocacy services to the most vulnerable elderly in the state. No other player in the Aging Network has that role. How effective a LSD is at filling this role generally determines how effective s/he is overall in his/her job.

The vision of the statewide legal advocacy delivery system is the benchmark against which the LSD will determine what his/her priority duties/tasks should be. That is, the litmus test for whether tasks are important or high priority will be whether and to what degree they contribute to achieving that vision of having in place the most effective possible legal advocacy system to meet the needs of the vulnerable elderly in the state.

In developing and constantly refining this statewide vision, the LSD seeks advice and counsel from a wide variety of sources, including legal providers, AAAs, other SUA staff, particularly those involved in elder rights advocacy, and other local and statewide elder rights and legal advocacy leaders. Indeed, a key part of the role of the LSD is to facilitate on-going, formal and informal, statewide planning efforts regarding legal advocacy services delivery system issues, as well as to assist the AAAs in this same effort on the planning and service area level.

At the heart of the legal program development work is the recognition that the OAA envisions legal advocacy services as meeting the individual needs of the most vulnerable elderly by making available the full panoply of legal advocacy services, i.e., administrative advocacy, litigative advocacy, and/or legislative advocacy. This recognizes also that meeting the individual needs of the most vulnerable elderly requires providing access to justice through individual case representation as well as through systems change advocacy, depending on the needs of the individual client.

A major role, then, of the LSD is to provide statewide leadership in the development and enhancement of the legal advocacy services which are available to the most vulnerable elders in the state. In so doing, the LSD finds him/herself working at times on statewide issues, and at other times on local or regional issues. In either case, the goal is always the development and enhancement of the provision of legal advocacy services to the most vulnerable elders.

Experience has shown the following as the most frequent statewide issues in the legal program development area:

On the AAA level, the LSD has a key role of providing both leadership and technical assistance. The AAAs can generally look to the LSD to provide "expert" guidance on legal service delivery system issues, whether in program development or program monitoring and assessment. While the LSD must recognize that the AAA makes the final decision about funding of legal programs, the LSD can provide very useful and welcome assistance to the AAA on these decisions.

Also on the area level, the LSD should be looked to by the legal providers for leadership and technical assistance, particularly in developing and maintaining effective working relationships with their AAA funding sources and in finding ways of expanding and improving the services available to vulnerable elders. Frequently in this relationship, the legal providers look to the LSD for guidance and assistance on "relationship" issues with the AAA or with other potential funding sources.

Recognizing that the LSD is looked to by both the AAAs and the legal providers for assistance, the LSD must work to ensure that s/he helps both, but is not perceived as the spokesperson for either. The LSD's role is to promote and enhance high quality legal advocacy services for vulnerable elders, not to promote the interests of one party or of the other.

B. Elder Rights Advocacy Development and Support

While developing the legal program is an important basic role for an LSD, her/his work as an advocate for elder rights is perhaps the most crucial responsibility under the OAA. Indeed, an LSD’s work in elder rights advocacy serves as the backbone to the entire Older Americans Act.

Since the 1992 introduction of Title VII, the Vulnerable Elder Rights Title of the OAA, there has been increased attention to elder rights planning and advocacy. LSDs should always remember that elder rights planning and advocacy have been integral to the OAA since its inception, and therefore are not dependent upon Title VII for their base in law. A key role of the SUA and the AAAs is to serve as a focal point for elder rights advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable elders.

The LSD is an integral part of the SUA elder rights advocacy efforts. This has been particularly true since the advent of Chapter 4 of Title VII, which linked legal development with elder rights advocacy. Nevertheless, with or without Title VII, by definition advocacy is a part of legal services. Thus, in the LSD's role in promoting high quality legal services for the elderly in the state, the LSD is always attempting to promote and enhance the elder rights advocacy services available in the state.

LSDs generally are either the lead player in the SUA or one of the lead players in the SUA in developing and implementing statewide elder rights activities which are to enhance the rights and benefits available to older Americans. Such efforts may include: statewide elder rights conferences; statewide elder rights task forces to focus on specific advocacy issues; legislative or administrative advocacy activities; development of statewide elder rights coalitions; or other activities.

One of the crucial elements which LSDs can bring to these elder rights efforts is the provision of assistance in creating strong local elder rights advocates to support the statewide efforts. That is, by virtue of the contacts the LSD has with local legal providers and other advocates, the LSD can play a significant role in bringing these groups and individuals into statewide elder rights initiatives.

C. Coordination with other Title VII Elder Rights Programs

Title VII of the Older Americans Act calls on State agencies on aging to ensure the coordination of Title III legal assistance services, LSC services, and those services provided by the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman; Prevention of Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation; and Insurance/Benefits Counseling Programs.10 The ultimate purpose of coordination is to maximize the impact that each of these programs can have on the needs of the vulnerable elderly.

The LSD can assist with coordination between Title VII programs by exploring ways in which the different programs can and should cooperate and collaborate to enhance their service to, and advocacy for, vulnerable older people. In doing this, the LSD along with representatives from the other programs, can explore and define how each of the four Title VII programs can be developed and operated to best address the needs of vulnerable elders and achieve the overall mission of Title VII. The challenge to the LSD and others is to learn how the purpose of each program advances the broader purpose of vulnerable elder rights protection; what barriers each program must overcome to advocate effectively for vulnerable elders; what the legal assistance program needs from other Title VII programs; and what the key advocacy issues affecting vulnerable elders are.

Keys to improving coordination include: (1) training/cross-training among Title VII programs about what they do, joint skills, and overlapping substantive areas; (2) understanding the need for Title VII programs to work in a more coordinated way and to understand each other's roles; (3) sharing of information and resources among Title VII programs; (4) the development of working agreements; and (5) the creation of elder rights units within state agencies on aging.

D. Elder Rights Units Rights and the Role of Legal Services Developers

In implementing Title VII, some of the SUAs have created special Elder Units within the SUA to better coordinate their elder rights activities. These units generally include the SUA staff who work on the programs mentioned in Title VII, that is, the Long Term Care Ombudsman, the LSD, the health insurance and benefits counseling programs and the elder abuse prevention program. Some states have a senior staff member head this unit, while others have one of the aforementioned staff head the unit, or in some cases the leadership shifts from one person to another depending on the issue being dealt with.

Generally, the Elder Rights Units are established to facilitate better communication and coordination among the "elder rights programs" which the SUA operates, and secondly, to place a heightened focus on statewide elder rights activities coordinated by the SUA. In some states, the Elder Rights Units include membership from outside the SUA, as well. In these cases, the focus is more often on statewide elder rights efforts, such as elder rights conferences or task forces.

E. Development of Standards for the Delivery of Legal Assistance to Older Persons

Title VII of the Older Americans Act calls for State agencies to "develop, in conjunction with area agencies on aging and legal assistance providers, statewide standards for the delivery of legal assistance to older individuals."11 Statewide standards can be defined as a set of guidelines which describe and define the essential elements involved in providing high quality, high impact legal assistance to older persons, and which set out the major responsibilities and roles of the actors and agencies involved in the legal advocacy system. Planning for the development of standards generally begins with the Legal Services Developer, who takes the lead in organizing the effort.

The reasons for developing statewide standards are to (1) improve the ability of AAAs to request proposals from, and contract with, legal providers for full-service, targeted legal programs; (2) assist state and area agencies and legal providers in viewing legal assistance as an integral part of the AAAs' and state agencies' larger role in protecting and enhancing elder rights and the autonomy of older persons; and (3) establish minimum standards of service which may be used by the state agency, AAAs, and legal providers to develop quality assurance systems of operation, monitoring procedures, and reporting systems which reflect the services being delivered and the impact of those services on the lives and well-being of older persons. Because developing and supporting legal assistance programs throughout the state is the basic role of the Developer, it is logical that the LSD would take the lead in bringing together a task force for the development of standards.

As an initial step in the planning, the LSD often discusses the need for and purpose of standards with the State Director on Aging and other state office staff who may have an interest in the project, and determine whether there is consensus that the concepts and process (discussed in TCSG's publication, Guide to the Development of Statewide Standards for the Delivery of Legal Assistance to Older Individuals) seem appropriate for their state. It is also helpful to discuss the development of standards with staff from area agencies and Title IIIB legal programs, members of the State Bar Elder Law Committee, representatives from the Office of General Counsel, etc. Development of standards by calling together a task force that includes even "problem" area agencies and providers can be a very effective tool in dealing with difficulties. By including the problem area agencies and providers in the process, the Developer gives them a forum for open discussion about their conceptions of the programs and the ownership of the final product.

F. Pro Bono Development Work with the Private Bar

Legal Services Developers are charged with identifying the legal needs of older persons, as well as the resources available to meet those needs. Title IIIB- funded legal assistance programs clearly are not sufficient to fulfill the needs of all older persons in any given state or local area. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Developer to find additional sources of legal services for older individuals. One avenue that is often explored is pro bono or reduced fee work by members of the state private bar. LSDs throughout the country have developed and implemented statewide and local pro bono programs that bring together prospective clients and volunteer lawyers.

In their pro bono development work, LSDs help AAAs and providers not only to generate a substantial number of volunteer lawyers, but to use these resources in such a way as to maximize their impact within their local communities. Developers help providers to integrate systematically pro bono resources as part of their overall delivery of legal services. Developers also work to ensure that pro bono programs target for priority attention specific substantive areas or client groups, to be optimally effective.

In addition to working with AAAs and legal services providers, LSDs can work directly with members of the private bar. For instance, Developers should consider attending formal and informal meetings of relevant sections of the State or local bar associations. This helps the Developer to keep up with what the private bar is doing, and to make important contacts. In some states, the LSD has been a key player in founding, chairing or providing support to Elder Law Sections of the State Bar Association.

G. Legal Education of Practitioners, Courts, and Public

The Older Americans Act calls on Legal Services Developers to "provide technical assistance, training and other supportive functions to area agencies on aging, legal assistance providers, ombudsmen, and other persons as appropriate."12 Among the roles that Developers may most effectively play in fulfilling this requirement are the following:

H. Development and Maintenance of Legal Services Program Reporting Systems

When enacting both the 1987 and 1992 Amendments to the Act, Congress expressed serious concern over the lack of reliable data made available to them by the Administration on Aging (AoA) and took steps to try to correct the inadequacy. The greatest underlying concern expressed by both the House and Senate was the need for reliable information about the success of Older Americans Act programs in reaching and serving target populations -- those in greatest social and economic need, in particular low-income minority older persons. As a result, Congress added specific requirements in the Act, describing what data AoA is to collect and compile.13

While the OAA does not require the development of a uniform statewide reporting system, as noted above, Congress has clearly stated dissatisfaction with previous AoA reporting practices. Thus, a number of State Developers, often in conjunction with TCSG, have taken the initiative in developing statewide reporting systems specifically for Title IIIB legal programs. These new reporting systems provide substantially improved information on who is being served and how, and also delineate the value of the services.

A reporting and monitoring system typically serves a number of different purposes. These include:

With increasing limits on available Title IIIB funds, the fourth purpose -- marketing -- continues to gain importance. It is often difficult for those outside of the legal services arena to understand the value of legal services programs to older persons. Often such programs are considered a threat, or unnecessary. Reporting can greatly assist in verifying the value of providing legal services. For instance, if an AAA is not aware of the fiscal and social impact that a legal services program has on the most vulnerable older persons, it is less likely to be supportive of funding those services. Reporting that fiscal and social impact has the potential of bolstering any given legal services program.

Although a good statewide reporting system is an extremely valuable tool, developing one requires a great deal of cooperation and communication. Difficulties can easily arise as a result of perceptions -- correct or not -- that (1) state and area agencies demand unnecessary information; (2) state and area agencies do not understand the ethical obligation to maintain client confidentiality; or (3) providers avoid accountability by using the excuse of "confidentiality."

The importance of a thorough, well-functioning reporting system cannot be under emphasized. It can provide an area agency with a clear picture of the real value of a legal program for the aging community. It can also facilitate communication and mutual understanding between area agency and legal program staff, thus providing an opportunity to prevent problems from developing. More broadly, a good reporting system can help area agency and legal program staff work together more closely and effectively, thus contributing to the development of a high-quality legal program for elderly clients.

In developing a uniform statewide reporting format or system, the Legal Services Developer should seek input from the area agencies and the legal providers. In addition to ensuring compliance with federal reporting requirements, the Developer should inquire as to the type of data required of the legal programs' other funding sources (such as the Legal Services Corporation or the United Way). This may avoid unnecessary duplication of reporting requirements and enable the provider to spend less time on reporting and more time assisting clients.

I. Development and Use of Monitoring Assessment Systems for Legal Programs for the Elderly

A major role of the Legal Services Developer is to work with area agencies and / legal services provider to ensure the provision of high quality, high impact legal services to older persons. This can be accomplished through the development of a system of reporting (discussed above) and evaluation/monitoring of Title IIIB legal programs. If an evaluation is to be meaningful, it should be undertaken as a cooperative effort between funder, provider and Developer. Too often the relationship between area agencies and legal providers is one of mutual skepticism, or even antagonism. The LSD should help the area agency and provider try to move beyond a mere contractual relationship to a collaborative, working partnership in which there is a shared goal of assessing and improving legal services for older persons.

III. Job Description

The 1992 Amendments to the Older Americans Act called for the creation of a job description for Legal Services Developers.14 A permanent job description for LSDs would have an enormous impact on the success of the position; it would clarify the duties, standardize them nationwide, and have the symbolic effect of permanently demonstrating the value of the position. As of now, however, the Administration on Aging has yet to finalize a draft.

In early 1994, NALSD released a draft job description, which set out the respective responsibilities of LSDs as described in Title VII Elder Rights and Title IIIB Legal Assistance, most of which is discussed above.15 Further, the job description described the tenets of an LSD's working relationships:

  1. Conflicts of Interest
    The primary role of the Legal Assistance Developer is to ensure that there are adequate, effective, and high quality legal assistance services available to older persons in the state. Thus, his or her primary duty is to serve the older persons of the state. The state shall not require the Legal Assistance Developer to be involved in activities that may place him or her in conflict with this duty.

  2. Confidentiality
    The Legal Assistance Developer shall not disclose information regarding the identity of client eligible persons who contact the Developer for information and referral for legal assistance unless he or she is authorized by the client eligible person in writing or orally, which oral consent is documented contemporaneously in a writing made by the Legal Assistance Developer or a member of his or her designated staff. The Legal Assistance Developer shall not be required to disclose the identity of any person who registers a complaint with the State Unit on Aging regarding legal assistance services.

  3. Interference and Retaliation
    The Legal Assistance Developer shall be allowed to perform the duties and functions described in this job description and those required by the Older Americans Act and its regulations without interference or retaliation by the State Unit on Aging, AAAs, Title IIIB legal assistance providers, or others. He or she shall not be disciplined by the State Unit on Aging for completing his or her duties and responsibilities as long as he or she performs such responsibilities in good faith.

  4. Status
    In order to complete the duties and functions described in this job description and those required by the Older Americans Act, it is necessary that the Legal Assistance Developer be a full time position with staff sufficient to ensure that all the duties and responsibilities can be carried out. The Legal Assistance Developer shall be classified, in the state system, at a level comparable to that of the Long Term Care Ombudsman, Insurance and benefits Counseling Supervisor, and the Adult Protective Services Supervisor.

The issuance of an LSD job description, along the lines of the one NALSD proposed, would greatly enhance the authority and stability of the LSD in each state and assist them in fulfilling their mission of ensuring a comprehensive elder rights system. A key provision of the above NALSD draft is the requirement that the LSD position be full-time. Currently, the amount of time an LSD allocates to the position and duties varies; many individuals serving in that position have other job titles and responsibilities. Data from TCSG's 1998 National Survey of Legal Assistance for the Elderly: Results and Implications show that percentage of time spent on the position ranges from 2% - 100%. If the LSD position is to be truly effective in carrying out the duties discussed above in Section II., it must be full-time.

IV. Conclusion

The Legal Services Developer is in a unique position. Her or his two broad roles as the catalyst for developing and maintaining high quality legal assistance to older persons and as focal point for elder rights advocacy, as described in Titles III and VII, respectively, impact all the core values in the Older Americans Act. However, variations in the amount of staff time devoted to the LSD position and in the types of activities individual states allow their LSD to conduct lead to low visibility of the position, which in turn leads to unfamiliarity and in some cases misinformation about the position, as evidenced by the survey conducted by Natalie Thomas discussed in this issue. The result is LSDs being much less effective than they could and should be.

If LSDs are to successfully carry out the role envisioned for them in the OAA and in past AoA policy issuances, they need the role definition, authority and stability that can only come from legislative language. As discussed above, specific responsibilities, authority, and qualifications would go a long way in furthering the effectiveness of LSDs. Obviously, the Older Americans Act is the place for such language. In lieu of new language in the OAA, since that is dependent on an authorization passing, the AoA could reaffirm the role of LSDs through a definitive policy issuance and job description along the lines of the drafts described above. To complement federal legislation in the OAA or AoA issuances, advocates might also attempt to add language to state laws which would define the state LSD role.16

Short of the above actions, LSDs and their states must realize that the pieces are currently in place for strong LSDs and Elder Rights Systems. The key to putting those pieces together is visibility. When the LSD is visible, he or she can better work with partners in the Aging Network to fulfill his or her duties under the Act. Maintaining a higher profile serves the dual purpose of educating the Aging Network and the general public on the potential of the position, while conducting the real work -- advocating for the rights of older persons.


1. Portions of this section are excerpted from TCSG's Legal Services Developers' Resource Manual (1995, Updated 1997). For more information, please contact TCSG.

2. By 1980, all states had received a Developer grant.

3. AoA-II-78-12, June 7, 1978.

4. Id.

5. The Older Americans Act uses the term "Legal Assistance Developer," but since the more commonly used description is "Legal Services Developer," that is what will be used in this article.

6. 42 U.S.C. § 3027(a)(18); OAA § 307(a)(18)

7. 42 U.S.C. § 3058j(b)(2); OAA § 731(b)(2).

8. Older Americans Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1991, S. Rep. No. 102-151, 102nd Cong., 1st Sess., 107 (1991) (empahsis added).

9. 42 U.S.C. § 3058j; OAA § 731.

10. 42 U.S.C. § 3058j(b)(4), (9); OAA § 731(b)(4)(9).

11. 42 U.S.C. § 3058j(b)(3)(A); OAA § 731(b)(3)(A).

12. 42 U.S.C. § 3058j(b)(2)(C); OAA § 731(b)(2)(C).

13. 42 U.S.C. § 3012(a)(19),(29) and 3018(a)-(c); OAA § 202(a)(19)(29) and 207(a)-(c).

14. 42 U.S.C. § 3012(a)(26); OAA § 202(a)(26).

15. A copy of the NALSD job description is on file with TCSG.

16. The 1999 Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature has approved a bill to establish the "Oklahoma Elder Rights and Legal Assistance Development Program," and has made it a priority for the coming legislative session. The Silver Haired Legislature is currently in the process of finding a sponsor in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

The Center for Social Gerontology, Inc.
A National Support Center in Law and Aging
2307 Shelby Avenue  Ann Arbor, MI  48103
Tel: (734) 665-1126  Fax: (734) 665-2071