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Hell hath no fury like a young lawyer scorned — especially a certain puertorrique�a law student poised to enter a profession that hardly reflects America’s ethnic and racial mosaic. Just ask Lumarie Maldonado-Cruz, a student at City University of New York School of Law who is working this summer at Freedman and Fish, a firm specializing in the burgeoning field of elder law. Ask what happened to her dear tia. “There are not a lot of people like me in law school learning what we need to take back to the community,” said Maldonado-Cruz, whose widowed Aunt Iris has been impoverished by medical expenses. As a niece, Maldonado-Cruz said, “I think what happened to my aunt is very unfair. So here I am.” As a soon-to-be lawyer, she added, “I have found my passion!” This year, for the first time, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is bankrolling passionate students such as Maldonado-Cruz. With its new Minority Summer Internship Program, the academy has provided three stipends of $2,000 each. In addition to Maldonado-Cruz in New York, two other minority fellows are summering at elder law firms in Ohio and Nevada. In Maldonado-Cruz’s case, Freedman and Fish has supplemented the academy’s support with an additional $2,000. “When I go to state bar meetings and look out into the audience, if I see one or two African-American attorneys, that’s a lot,” said Daniel G. Fish, Maldonado-Cruz’s summer mentor and a name partner at his 10-lawyer firm. “I don’t see too many Hispanic surnames either. And very few members of the Asian community come to see me. “So we’re running up against some real barriers here,” he said. “I’m hoping that Lumarie will be in the vanguard in getting the word out.” With an avalanche of hospital and doctor bills following open-heart surgery two years ago, Maldonado-Cruz’s aunt reluctantly turned to the government for help — only to be denied Medicaid funds. She was consequently forced to sell the only thing that she and her late husband owned — a modest house in Puerto Rico, meant for retirement from their years in New York as a home aid worker and a building super, respectively. Exacerbating her aunt’s woes, Maldonado-Cruz said, was her limited ability in English. For Aunt Iris, trying to explain her predicament to a lawyer, even with a translator � “�Se pona en un apreto!” In other words: “You feel like you’re incompetent, unable to convey the right feelings,” Maldonado-Cruz said of her aunt’s experience with an English-speaking attorney. “It’s very frustrating, like being a 2-year-old who can’t express himself. It’s like being an outsider looking in.” Fish, who himself speaks Spanish, is sensitive to cultural as well as language barriers faced by minority clients. “It’s something different when there’s a Lumarie sitting across from a [Puerto Rican] client,” he said. “There’s a greater level of empathy, a greater connection.” All too often, he added, a minority person of advanced age will “simply accept what they’re told by a hospital, or by a social worker.” Or by the government, as in the example of Aunt Iris. “We’re convinced that in minority communities, the word hasn’t gotten out that there are a whole series of asset protection steps that can be taken to keep someone from becoming impoverished,” said Fish, a past president of the academy. GENESIS OF INTERNSHIP Charles P. Sabatino, a professor of elder law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., was first to suggest that the academy undertake the intern program. Professor Sabatino said he acted after reviewing a series of reports by the American Bar Association that reflected what he called an “embarrassingly low” ratio of minority attorneys. “I asked myself — Well, what are we doing in elder law, other than programming at conferences, which wasn’t really anything,” said Sabatino, who is also counsel to the ABA’s Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly. “So, that’s how the minority internship program came about. “We hope to expand the program after this summer’s evaluation,” he added. “I think there’s great value for the amount we put into it.” Part of Sabatino’s expansion plan would be to persuade more law schools around the country to establish elder law clinics. Recent ABA surveys count about 40 schools with such clinics, he said — one of them being CUNY law school. Professor Joseph Rosenberg, supervising attorney of CUNY’s Elder Law Clinic, said people like Maldonado-Cruz’s aunt are “more often than not” excluded from available legal protections. “People who have money have access to legal advice,” said Rosenberg. “The people who don’t really have the money, or who don’t speak the language, don’t get the advice they need — and the law comes down harder on them. “You have to understand the laws so that you can minimize the potential negative consequences,” he said. “This is particularly true when you’re dealing with a house. An awful lot of elderly people on fixed incomes do own homes, and there’s some pretty complicated planning involved.” One day soon Maldonado-Cruz will do her part as a lawyer to shield the elderly. “I am determined,” she said. “And we are in love with the law.” So much so that she and her husband named their 4-year-old son Justice.

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