Elder Law Group: Aging workforce, added clients
Practice founder looks to boost staff, raise awarenessFebruary 16th, 2017
Lynn St. Louis, founding partner of Elder Law Group PLLC, says her Spokane-based law firm is poised to pick up additional clients in the coming years, as the need for estate planning and elder law services continues to increase.
“Elder law is definitely a growing practice area,” says St. Louis. “We’re facing an aging population that will soon need access to these services, so it will be important to have attorneys who have that knowledge.”
Although the firm started as Lynn St. Louis Law Office back in 2006, St. Louis says she decided to change its name in 2015.
“I wanted people to know what it is we do, rather than listing all the partners’ names,” she says. “People hear elder law and they assume we focus on estate planning, but that’s only part of what we do.”
While elder law can include several types of legal services, St. Louis says the firm is most concerned with asset protection and long-term care planning.
“We don’t do work with guardianships or elder protection-type cases,” she says.
Elder Law Group’s services include asset protection estate planning, wills and trusts, powers of attorney for financial or health care, health care directives, Medicaid asset preservation, long-term care planning, probate, and trust administration.
The firm currently is located in a 2,000-square-foot, former residence at 207 W. Nora, but St. Louis says it plans to expand in the coming months to accommodate more employees.
“This current location will still serve as our main client center,” she says. “But we’re looking into locations nearby to serve as office space as we begin hiring more staff.”
In addition to its Spokane office, the firm has a Tri-Cities branch office in Kennewick, at 5861 W Clearwater Ave.
Three attorneys, including St. Louis, and a support staff of seven employees work in the firm’s Spokane office.
Piper, a Labrador retriever, serves as the office’s canine companion.
“We’ve found when we’re talking with clients about difficult, serious topics, a dog can provide a nice break in the tension,” says St. Louis. “It just helps create a warmer, friendlier environment.”
Last year, St. Louis says, Elder Law Group was listed as one of the 100 fastest-growing law firms nationally by The Law Firm 500, an annual business development conference for attorneys. The award recognizes firms that have achieved significant revenue growth over the previous three years.
She declined to disclose the firm’s annual billings, but says she expects its revenues will continue to increase.
“We ranked 44th in the nation for revenue growth, growing over 100 percent from 2013 to 2016,” she says. “We’re hoping to move toward that same goal again.”
According to St. Louis, part of the firm’s success is due to its continually increasing caseload, which she and the firm’s two associate attorneys, Liz Wallace and Jonas Hemenway share.
“While each case does have a primary attorney, we do a lot of collaboration,” she says. “Our goal is to continue to serve more clients, but our biggest challenge is still raising awareness of our services.”
St. Louis says new clients typically are 50 to 55 years old, and many come in following the death of a friend or family member.
“There’s usually a catalyst that has them thinking they should start to plan,” she says. “The trouble is that we have a very youth-oriented culture. People don’t like to consider themselves ‘elderly,’ and we don’t like to think about death.”
She adds, “What I tell my clients is that legal planning isn’t about planning for your death. It’s about arranging to continue living comfortably up until that inevitable point.”
While most of the firm’s work is in estate preparations and long-term care planning, St. Louis says she usually has new clients start out by looking at several key documents.
These include a will with an asset-protection supplemental needs trust, powers of attorney for both finances and health, and a health care directive or living will.
St. Louis says an asset-protection supplemental needs trust is designed to provide benefits to and protect the assets of individuals with physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities, enabling them to qualify and receive governmental health care benefits under Medicaid.
“There are usually two types of clients,” she says. “The first is usually a relative or spouse of a senior who hires the firm to help protect their family’s assets. The second type is typically someone who has urgent need of our services.”
She says it’s sometimes harder to help the second type of client, particularly if they no longer have the capacity to set their affairs in order.
“We can still try to help, but it is far more difficult if they lack capacity and don’t already have these documents in place,” she says.
St. Louis says the firm’s attorneys are knowledgeable about Medicaid and encourage their clients to apply for the program to help save on long-term care costs.
“A lot of people don’t want to use Medicaid, and eventually they end up losing money in care costs,” she says. “We help them to be aware of their options.”
She says the firm also is able to refer clients to long-term care planners, care managers, and other professionals in the industry.
“This isn’t social work, but it has that component,” she says. “We help create the legal documents, but we also get to see the practical application of when and where the care is delivered.”
While she got her start in civil litigation, St. Louis says the work she’s doing now is where her heart lies.
“It was going through that long-term care process with my own parents that put me on the path to finding ways I could help others through my career as an attorney,” she says. “Planning is such a gift to your family. It helps relieve so much worry and stress.”
For those nearing retirement age who haven’t yet considered estate planning or long-term care, St. Louis says her first advice is to visit a financial planner.
“They can help you get a sense of your financial health and how well prepared you are for retirement,” she says.
The second thing she recommends is getting an early start on long-term care insurance.
“It’s important to look into long-term care insurance before you need it, while you’re still healthy,” she says. “Having that in place gives you options. You may never need to use it, but it’s better to have it.”
Looking ahead, St. Louis says there are a few changes coming that may affect the practice of elder law, one being health care funding.
“President Trump has talked about possible changes that might affect funding for long-term care under Medicaid,” she says. “There haven’t been any yet, but I’d say it’s a good idea to get those documents in place now.”
St. Louis says she considers Washington an excellent place to retire, and Spokane in particular, with a thriving health care industry and many options for care facilities.
“Washington state in general has always been very innovative, so I’m sure we’ll take any changes in stride,” she says. “Spokane’s health care industry is really thriving right now, and people have a lot of care choices.”
St. Louis says for now her plan is to keep growing the firm and to keep looking at ways to bring more public awareness to elder law services.
“It’s true that people can find some of these forms online, print them, and figure they’re prepared,” she says. “But through us, you have the support of experienced attorneys, as well as all of our industry contacts and resources.”
As part of her effort to raise public awareness, St. Louis says she’s hoping to create a workshop on legal issues in the near future.
“Legal Voice is a Seattle nonprofit organization that recently came out with a book I feel is an excellent resource for seniors,” she says. “We’d like to partner with them to market the book at a workshop event, where we could also gather other area attorneys who could speak to their specialties and educate people on the legal resources available in this community.”