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Morgan LaRosa, a third-year law student at UofL, has participated in the Trager-Brandeis Elder Law Clinic since its inception in spring of 2022. A partnership of the University of Louisville Trager Institute and the Brandeis School of Law, the clinic provides free estate planning services to underserved clients. Staffed by UofL law students under the direction of Misty Clark VanTrease, a licensed attorney and adjunct faculty member at the School of Law, this is one of only a few clinics in Jefferson County that provides such services to low-income clients. UofL News reached out to Morgan to learn about her experience and how it has impacted both her and the clients she serves.
UofL News: You’ve been involved with the clinic since it began. What keeps you coming back?
LaRosa: I am drawn back by the work we are doing and all of the clients I have gotten to meet. The creation of this clinic felt serendipitous; it was exactly what I was looking for. I came into law school knowing I had an interest in estate planning and working with elderly populations. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was probably going to end up working in a general law school clinic that, while a great learning opportunity and benefit to the community, would not be in an area of the law that I had an interest in practicing. Then the Trager-Brandeis Elder Law Clinic was announced as an option for students’ required experiential learning.
Elder law can be such a rewarding field. The documents we are drafting – durable power of attorney, health care surrogate designation, living will directive and last will and testament – are important documents that can ease the burden on the client and their family and friends when it comes to end-of-life care. They are crucial in preserving the wishes of the client for a time when they may not be able to fully communicate those wishes anymore. The clients that come to see us trust us with the task of making sure their wishes are clearly stated and protected in legal documents. Many clients have expressed their gratitude for the services we are offering, and I am just as grateful that they have trusted me with their estate planning needs and the opportunity to learn and grow as a student. My experience in the clinic has been the highlight of my law school education.
UofL News: How has your role in the clinic evolved?
LaRosa: My role has evolved with the growth of the clinic and the growth of my experience in elder law. In January 2022, when we were preparing to open the clinic, we were a much smaller group. There were four students with three attorneys supervising us. We were learning as we went along and had the task of setting the foundation for the clinic. We had to decide everything, from what supplies we needed in the office to what language we wanted to include in our documents. My role was conducting client intake interviews, drafting documents and conducting document executions.
I thoroughly enjoyed the work I did in spring 2022 and reached out to Misty toward the end of that semester about the possibility of doing some work in the clinic over the summer on a volunteer basis. The Trager Institute and the law school approved the idea of a limited summer clinic, and in summer 2022, the clinic offered two mini clinics.
During these mini clinics I had the opportunity to take on a more supervisory and administrative role. There were about 10 law students per session that I, along with attorneys Misty, Sheldon Haden and Chris Brown, trained and supervised. I was the point of contact for all client communication and observed all client meetings. It was a whirlwind experience. Over the course of four days, we served 17 clients and prepared a total of 64 documents.
This semester I have a combined role. I am meeting with clients and drafting documents as I did in my first semester, while also providing support and advisement to the nine other students in the clinic. I am the first student to return to the clinic for a second semester, so I came in with a wealth of knowledge to share.
UofL News: Why is elder law important?
LaRosa: Elder law is a field of law that encompasses services that benefit everyone as they enter the later stages of life. Aging is a natural part of life, and with it comes new concerns and milestones. It is important to have a sector of the legal field dedicated to the complexities that come with life planning documents. Having a long-term care plan and estate planning documents can relieve some of the stress that clients and their families face when thinking about the future.
UofL News: Students participating in the elder law clinic are required to take part in the Trager Institute’s case conceptualization workshops. What have you learned or gained from these workshops that you can apply to your clinic work?
LaRosa: The case conceptualization workshops are a really cool way to view a client/patient as a whole and see the way that the various practices at the Trager Institute interact to provide comprehensive care to its clients/patients. It exemplifies the team effort to improve overall quality of life instead of simply issue spotting. When there is a team of doctors, social workers and attorneys coming together for the good of one person, you can ensure that you are addressing care options for physical health, mental health, social relationships and legal security. It provides an expansive view of who we are helping.
UofL News: What impact has this clinic had on the clients that you’ve worked with?
LaRosa: I hope this clinic has helped provide our clients with a sense of peace for the future. Estate planning can feel daunting and scary to many people. Our goal with this clinic is to provide valuable estate planning services to a population that is underserved due to financial limitations. The clients I have served have expressed their gratitude for the help they received through the clinic. I strive to make sure that each person I meet with fully understands the power of the documents we prepare, that they feel confident in the decisions they are making and that they walk away with a sense of relief that they took the initiative to seek out our help. By executing these documents, clients hopefully feel comforted that their wishes have been legally documented.
As of the end of 2022, the clinic had served 76 clients in preparing 305 legal documents.
UofL News: How do you think your experience at the law clinic will influence your future goals and plans after you graduate from Brandeis?
LaRosa: My experience at this clinic has solidified my interest in practicing as an estate planning attorney. Moreover, it has expanded my view of the field of elder law. I now plan to practice as an elder law attorney in Kentucky upon graduating and passing the Kentucky bar exam. I enjoy the work I have done at the clinic. It has provided me with hands-on, practical experience that I never would have fully acquired from a law school classroom. There is nothing more valuable than real client interaction. I want to continue serving the aging populations of Kentucky.
Q&A conducted by Samantha Adams.