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CUNY Law’s First Borchard Fellow Joins Elder Law Clinic

October 19, 2009

Lian Kuang (’09) received the highly selective Borchard Foundation Center on Law & Aging Fellowship this year and will work with Chinese elders through CUNY’s Elder Law Clinic. Read more about her exciting new project and fellowship.

CUNY Law Elder Law Clinic's First Borchard Fellow, Lian Kuang

What prompted you to pursue the Borchard Fellowship?

My career goal of serving and improving the lives of my community’s elders fits perfectly with the mission of the Borchard Foundation to “help improve the quality of life for elderly people, including those who are poor or otherwise isolated by lack of education, language, culture, disability or other barriers.” This Borchard Fellowship will allow me the opportunity to make a significant impact in the quality of legal services provided to Chinese elders in New York City. I am excited by the possibility that I will have the opportunity to work with the Borchard Foundation to realize our mutual goals.

Why did you select CUNY Law’s Elder Clinic as the organization to carry out your fellowship?

I selected CUNY School of Law’s Main Street Legal Service, Elder Law Clinic, as my supporting non-profit organization for the project because the Elder Law Clinic’s goals, curriculum, case docket, and supervision style operates to produce elder law practitioners who are culturally competent and possessing “professional values and skills that encourage client autonomy, empowerment and dignity.” As a personal goal for this Borchard Fellowship, I want to continue to learn and improve my skills to be a culturally competent legal practitioner. I also strongly agree with the fundamental value of encouraging client autonomy, empowerment and dignity, especially working with the elderly. The clinic’s director, Professor Joe Rosenberg, has a vast amount of knowledge and experience on elder law issues and has also been a strong supporting force in my learning and professional development. I will also have access to all the resources of the law school and the rest of the clinics in Main Street Legal Services.

What inspired you to work in social justice, particularly with the elderly?

I am fortunate to have been given opportunities in life that helped shape a clear vision of what I can offer to society and the career path that best utilizes my abilities and interests. At nine, I had the chance to immigrate to this country where my teachers told me being a lawyer was not an absurd idea for a girl from a poor family. In my first two jobs, as an Office Assistant in an immigration assistance agency for Chinese immigrants and a U.S. Census 2000 Field Representative surveying the Lower East Side’s Chinese community, I was able to use my bilingual and multi-dialect skills to help the Chinese community. I realized the tremendous value of my language abilities. From 2001 to 2006, first as a Caseworker then as a Case Manager, I was specifically hired to work with Chinese elders. I realized that I love working with the elderly and that interest enabled me to effectively communicate and foster a trusting working relationship with my elderly clients.

How did working with Chinese elders spur your interest in social justice?

My experience working with Chinese elders made me realize the need for affordable bilingual Chinese elder law attorneys, which inspired me to finally pursue my dream of being a lawyer. I was thrilled to have been accepted to the City University of New York School of Law, the only law school to which I applied because the law school’s commitment to represent vulnerable populations is aligned with my legal career goals. While in law school, my summer internship at Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Office for the Aging and my experience as a student-attorney in the Elder Law Clinic exposed me to the rich array of legal issues faced by the elderly. They also made me recognize that a gap exists in the scope and approach to delivery of legal services to the low-income Chinese elderly community in New York City.

What are the goals of your Borchard Fellowship?

For my fellowship, I will help low-income Chinese elders voice and document their wishes regarding long-term care in the event of incapacity by providing direct pro bono services and conducting culturally competent educational presentations on the necessity of planning and the legal tools available for planning. My project will also focus on protecting the rights and wishes of Chinese elders already facing issues of capacity in guardianship proceedings in Queens and New York counties by providing representation and assistance to Chinese elders and their families. I will also be working on improving the quality of legal services to Chinese elders in New York City by producing a report that identifies the legal needs of this population and makes recommendations to the state bar and judiciary on approaches to meet the identified needs; and developing a “Best Practices” manual for attorneys that incorporates cultural competence in representing Chinese elders. In addition, I will also develop presentation material for the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) 2010 Decision Making Day Program that takes into account language, educational and cultural barriers particular to Chinese elders, but also can be used as a model to develop culturally appropriate approaches to working with other elderly groups.

Why is this project timely?

Currently there is little available information about the legal needs of Chinese elders in New York City, including the legal issues they face and barriers to legal services. The study by the Asian American Federation of New York focused mainly on the social services needs of the Asian American population. A recent study by Legal Services of New York City had only a small section identifying the legal needs of the general elderly population in New York City. More extensive information about the legal needs of Chinese elders in New York City is necessary in order to help current legal service agencies develop ways to better serve this community; educate the elder law bar, judiciary, policy makers and the public; attract bilingual Chinese lawyers and law students to serve this community; and attract additional funding for future legal services from government and private funders. My project will assess and produce a report on the legal needs of this community of elders. In addition, there needs to be greater awareness among lawyers of cultural barriers in order to provide more effective legal representation that is responsive to the client’s individual circumstances. My project will help identify differences in beliefs and views rooted in culture and ethnicity that may give rise to barriers in the course of providing services to Chinese elders and their families and recommend “best practices” approaches to address those issues. I’m very excited to be carrying out this project at CUNY Law.


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