Our team recently participated in the Elder Law Symposium in Southern Pines, N.C., where our founder, Nancy Ruffner, presented on the Care Management panel alongside Amy Fowler of Asheville-based WNC Geriatric Care Management and Jennifer Szakaly of Charlotte-based Caregiving Corner. A theme that ran throughout the event: the need for tighter collaboration between different members of a care team. We discussed how the partnership between Advocates and Elder Law Attorneys has become more fluid in the last several years as clients typically need legal counsel at different stages of the process.
We often encourage clients to have the conversation about long-term elder care as soon as possible. We have also emphasized the importance of seeking expert advice from the right professionals at the appropriate times. However, we recognize that this is often easier said than done.
Geriatric Care All Starts with Listening
In our experience working with families, we have found that communication breaks down when someone does not listen (or does not listen fully). Last month, we shared a few of our favorite go-to strategies for starting the conversation about long-term geriatric care. Each of these techniques relies on paying close attention and noticing cues when they pop up.
Adult children of aging parents often express frustration about an inability to “Have the Conversation” about long-term elder care management. Many others simply avoid starting the conversation because they are afraid that it may go badly. When do we bring it up? What do we say? What questions do we ask? What if Mom and Dad act stubborn and insist that they can handle everything on their own? What if they just don’t want to talk about it? However, people are always interested in talking about something, and the key is to notice what that “something” is.
When we refer professionals to assist our clients, one of the most important characteristics we look for is the ability and the willingness to listen well. We have learned that no matter how competent a professional may be, their ability to provide quality service is largely a matter of how well they listen. After the Elder Law Symposium, we asked a handful of attorneys to chime in and share their personal philosophies on the subject of listening as it relates to serving clients. Here is what they had to say.
“Listening is the most important part of communicating. Listening to what my clients say is critical to understanding my clients’ situations and what my clients want to accomplish. Without listening and understanding my clients’ concerns and positions, I can’t make suggestions as to how to proceed. Additionally, since clients don’t know which facts they need to give me, I must not only listen to my clients’ comments but also engage them in a discussion to gather additional critical facts since that will affect the suggestions I give to my clients. Engaging in a discussion with my clients helps my clients better understand my suggestions about their options, makes them feel more a part of the process and helps them make better decisions on how to proceed in their situations.”
-Ralph DiLeone, DiLeone Law Group, Raleigh, N.C.
“As an attorney, the more I listen to and communicate with my clients, the better job I can do for them. I try to be an active listener, reaffirming statements, and questioning when necessary to achieve greater clarity. The hallmark of an exceptional lawyer is excellent communication skills.”
-Gregory Herman-Giddens, Trust Counsel, Chapel Hill, N.C.
“I start almost every new matter with an open-ended request: tell me what is going on. I get much more perspective and information by letting the client lead the narrative than I would by going down a checklist or responding to the first point they make. Often the true problem takes a while to identify.”
-Donna Berkelhammer, Legal Direction, Durham, N.C.
“Listening (as opposed to just hearing) is key to being able to address the client’s true needs. Sometimes listening involves understanding what the client is not saying. Also, clients can tell when you are simply thinking about what you are going to say next, rather than really listening to them. I find that listening often requires much patience, but it pays off in the quality of the service and in client satisfaction.”
-Anthony Nicholson, McPherson, Rocamora, Nicholson & Wilson, PLLC, Durham, N.C.
“Listening and communication is the most important part of my job. When I meet with clients and discuss their Elder Law and Estate Planning Needs, it’s crucial to listen to the client and find out what their goals are. No two clients are alike and I believe that while every person needs an estate plan, every person doesn’t need the same estate plan, so it’s important for me as their lawyer to learn about them, listen to their needs and goals and come up with a plan that addresses those individual needs and goals. It’s also important to me that my client understands their plan and how it works so that they don’t get overwhelmed by the legalese.”
-Shirley Diefenbach, Walker Lambe Rhudy Costley & Gill, PLLC, Durham, N.C.
“Knowing what questions to ask to guide clients’ estate-planning or long-term care needs is only the starting point in our elder law practice. Actively listening to clients plays an equal or greater role in our practice than advising clients. We have found that, often, it is the unspoken words we hear from my clients that signal us to ask different questions to guide our recommendations. Clients always appreciate the clear and concise communications from our legal team, which gives our clients confidence in choosing our firm.”
-Kara Gansmann and Andrew Olsen, The Elder Law Practice Group of Cranfill, Sumner, & Hartzog LLP, Wilmington, N.C.
“I find that that shutting up and listen to what the client is saying is the most important part of the client interview process. The client is not there to be impressed with what the attorney knows. Hearing their concerns and fears of how to face the unknown with your assistance, gives them assurance they have come to the right legal office!”
Careful Elder Care Management
Sometimes, the change of season brings about a renewed sense of clarity about what’s important, and spring is a time of renewals and new beginnings. This time of year is an opportunity to “clean house” of old patterns (such as avoiding the conversation or hoping for things to improve on their own). As the weather warms up and the hustle and bustle of summer draws near, we encourage families to make a habit of stopping for a moment and fully listen to one another. It may not seem to make a big impact in the moment, but over time it creates trust and a strong family bond, which makes it easier to start those difficult conversations. Listening is simple and easy, and it can make all of the difference in the world.
If your family is sensing the need to HAVE THE CONVERSATION about elder care management, let’s have a confidential conversation about how our team can help. CONNECT WITH US on our website or call us at (919) 628.4428 to schedule a FREE initial consultation.