Slow Lawyering: Representing Seniors in Light of Cognitive Changes Accompanying the Aging Process

30 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2013

See all articles by Mary Helen McNeal

Mary Helen McNeal

Syracuse University College of Law

Date Written: April 16, 2013


As an increasing number of lawyers represent clients who are elderly, it is imperative that lawyers become more knowledgeable about the aging process and how it impacts our clients. Although it is difficult to generalize, many seniors experience numerous and diverse cognitive changes that accompany the aging process. Existing literature offers various frameworks for addressing capacity issues and techniques for assessing diminished capacity. However, current legal scholarship provides little guidance for lawyers on how to accommodate these changes when they do not rise to the level of diminished capacity or dementia, and when the changes may, in fact, result in increased wisdom and “developmental intelligence.” This article seeks to fill that void. It summarizes selected cognitive developments that impact memory, outlining various types of memory and how they evolve during the aging process. This article also discusses current literature on decision-making capacity and different decision-making models and strategies that seniors may rely upon. The article concludes with recommendations on methods for enhancing communications with aging clients, while simultaneously acknowledging and accommodating cognitive changes and enabling seniors to play a prominent role in the representational process.

Keywords: aging, seniors, cognition, memory, lawyering, dementia, wisdom

Suggested Citation

McNeal, Mary Helen, Slow Lawyering: Representing Seniors in Light of Cognitive Changes Accompanying the Aging Process (April 16, 2013). Penn State Law Review, Vol. 117, No. 4, 2013. Available at SSRN:

Mary Helen McNeal (Contact Author)

Syracuse University College of Law ( email )

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