Helping further the cause of Elder Law nationally

I’m very humbled but glad to announce that I have been elected Vice President of the National Elder Law Foundation Board of Directors. If you know me, you know that I am pretty simple. I studied hard in school and worked hard to get anything that I got. Becoming an attorney was a struggle with small children at home and working full time. As you probably know, I practiced general practice for a year and hated it. I knew that I needed to either go back to Physical Therapy or figure out some other area of the law on which to focus. My career as a PT had always focused on the elderly. I did some research and discovered that there was the area of the law that focused on working with the elderly. I jumped in with both feet.

In most areas of the law, most attorneys are willing to assist you to get started. That was not the case with elder law. I learned this pretty much by myself. Once I got into it, I learned that elder law is one of the few areas that allow for an attorney to specialize and to become certified. I then set my sights on becoming a Certified Elder Law Attorney. There was only one in the state at the time (he was very helpful when I asked, by the way) and I wanted more than anything to become the second.

Having practiced for 5 years and having done what I thought was needed to sit for the test, I then took the test. I did NOT pass. How dare them not pass me!!!! I was devastated at having not proven myself worthy. Looking back, I did not deserve to pass. I then really studied and then passed on my second attempt. That was one of the happiest days of my life since that designation told me that I knew what I was doing but also let the world know that I was worthy of holding the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney. There are very few attorneys that have that designation and I knew that put me into a very small but distinguished group of attorneys in the state and nationally.

Then a few years later, I received a phone call from the then President of the Board of Directors, Steven Spano, who I respected greatly, wanting me to be on the Board. “What!!?!?! Me, Todd Whatley, a guy from Arkansas who stuttered and was made fun of as a kid, now being on this national board???” I was floored. I told Mr. Spano that would be honored to be on the board of such a great organization and to also share a board seat with the true leaders of the profession. I thought then my career goal had been met. They gave me some pretty high goals to meet regarding marketing CELA’s nationwide. I’ve done that with all of my abilities and with the help of other board members and other CELA’s throughout the country, the fruit of that is coming to light and over the next few months, that will become very obvious. When I was nominated Vice President, once again, I was highly honored and shocked.

The National Elder Law Foundation is doing some great work. We work to certify attorneys that meet the very strict requirements to carry the designation. We are currently under fire because some very good attorneys have not passed the test. The test grading is truly anonymous and the graders want to feel confident that the person they are grading knows this sufficiently well so as that they would feel comfortable referring a close friend to that person. As a grader, I have seen answers that make me feel good but then some of the answers were truly lacking. We also continuously monitor the attorneys that carry the designation to ensure that they continue to meet the requirements.

I’m not sure why I am posting this other than to let the world know that I feel so blessed to be involved with a great organization and then I am honored for that organization to see fit to put me in such a high level of leadership. I am truly grateful. Keep an eye on the NELF website ( over the next few months. Also, tell the elderly folks and their families that you know that there are attorneys out there that know how to work with the elderly and their families. Also, it’s almost never too late to do something to help. Those attorneys that have the designation of CELA are well versed in this area of law but there are also attorneys out there that for what ever reason don’t have the designation, also know what to do, but they are harder to distinguish.

I am proud to be a CELA and am honored to work so closely with some truly remarkable people.

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