Alumna Profile: Angela Schultz ‘07
July 12, 2010
Angela Schultz ‘07 is using her law career to make an important difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of her community. Angela, who works at a small law firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that focuses on elder and disability law, returned to the Midwest from Portland two years ago. During her time studying and working in Portland, Angela fed her interest in justice for vulnerable populations in Doug Beloof’s Victims in Criminal Procedure class and worked to make justice a reality for victims in NCVLI’s Crime Victim Litigation Clinic, and as a community educator at Portland’s Volunteers of America Home Free Domestic Violence Intervention Program. Now, Angela works directly with clients who are critically in need of compassionate legal services.
A number of Angela’s clients are victims of crime and she works creatively on civil remedies to help these elderly and/or disabled victims. She described the situation of one client who was financially abused by a family member: “I’m currently working with someone whose former daughter-in-law had my client co-sign a loan. My client has a disability. She did sign the loan documents, but she didn’t understand what she was signing. Now with $60,000 of loans that my client is jointly liable for and the former daughter-in-law considering bankruptcy, where does this leave my client?” Cases of financial abuse such as this are all too common for elderly and disabled citizens, but thanks to compassionate practitioners like Angela, these victims have help in the process of attaining financial recovery from crime. In the case of this victim of financial abuse, Angela says, “I’m researching options and I think she’ll actually have an option that will work in her favor.”
Angela encounters many hard questions in her legal practice helping her clients. Angela says, “The most difficult situations are when a guardianship is contested. For example, the healthy and able middle-aged son of a very elderly couple petitions the court for guardianship of the estate of his parents. He claims they need his financial assistance. They claim they are fine on their own. While the son is easily able to access court forms online, drive himself to hearings, and other things he needs to do to successfully navigate the system, his parents no longer drive, don’t use the internet or have easy access to it, and struggle to understand the process as a whole. And even if they do struggle to take care of finances at this point in life, should they lose their power to manage or even mis-manage their own money?” This situation highlights the various challenges that elderly and disabled people may face in simply trying to participate in the legal process.
When asked what she thinks needs to happen to address the challenges and issues that elderly and disabled citizens face, Angela says “Making complex systems navigable for people of all abilities is a tall order. But some simple changes like making the courthouse fully accessible for people with disabilities would help. Having self-help centers in place at the courthouse to assist folks who need to fill out forms also goes a long way. But the tougher issue of the victimization of vulnerable populations requires such significant cultural shifts it can only happen one step at a time through ensuring that at every step of a process, someone with a disability is as involved in the process as they can possibly be.” How can attorneys, law students, and the community help with this? Angela recommends: “Get to know some people with disabilities outside of work. Expand your community. Interrupt oppressive language.”
Angela reports that she is motivated to be successful in her work because “The system is so incredibly complex, there have to be compassionate practitioners around to lighten the load for individuals and families living with disabilities who need public benefits.” Angela’s examples show that her work has the potential to make a tremendous difference in the lives of the elderly and disabled people she works with.