Weaving a safety net for the elderly

Karen Nicolson (at the podium) leads a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income senior citizens and disabled persons. Photo credit: Dan Almasi / WBFO News

Karen Nicolson ’89 helps battle elder abuse by leading an organization that provides free legal services to help low-income senior citizens and disabled persons live independently and with dignity.

As a high school student, Karen Nicolson ’89 met a legal services attorney helping farmworkers on her native Long Island. That, she thought, is what I want to do: make the law work for poor people.

Now, as CEO of The Center for Elder Law & Justice in Buffalo, she leads an organization that provides free legal services to help low-income senior citizens and disabled persons live independently and with dignity. Nicolson handles issues ranging from physical and financial abuse to eviction and other housing concerns.

“I’m doing non-traditional legal work with a legal component to a lot of it,” says Nicolson.

And it IS a lot. In addition to helping supervise 15 attorneys, she deals with personnel issues, lobbying, fundraising, and keeps up on labor law. As a registered lobbyist, she works to comply with state reporting requirements.

Beyond helping individual clients, Nicolson says the Center has been in the forefront of identifying issues that affect seniors. They saw the foreclosure crisis coming, and noticed the trend toward financial abuse of elders before it was widely reported.

“We have such a wonderful staff,” Nicolson says. “There’s always a hum of activity, people talking about cases and strategy and victories. It’s a great place to practice law. And the law school prepared me for all of it.”