Katherine C. Pearson
Professor of Law
J.D., University of Miami
B.A., University of Arizona
Law and Aging Policy Seminar
Wills, Trusts and Estates
My teaching interests have evolved as I have gained an ever-deepening appreciation for how traditional law studies interact with newer, specialized fields. I teach Contracts, for example, a traditional first-year course. As we explore legal concepts such as “offer and acceptance, “good faith” or “unconscionability,” we realize that certain parties, especially consumers, may not be well protected by the common law of contracts, and so we talk about why consumer protection statutes have become important. In other courses, I offer students opportunities to delve deeply into core legal concepts by looking at specialized legal fields. For example, in Elder Law, we explore how “contract law” affects family members who sign contracts as “responsible parties” for an elder’s nursing home care. Or in Non-profit Organizations Law, we examine the special rules for operating as tax-exempt enterprises.
The focus of my research and writing is on laws and public policies connected to aging, and whenever possible, I include students in my Elder Law research. For more than ten years, I served as the director of The Dickinson Schools of Law of the Pennsylvania State University's Elder Law and Consumer Protection Clinic, a role that continues to inspire projects. For example, recently my students and I collaborated on a Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging grant to interview older adults and their families in Pennsylvania about “access to justice” for seniors. Students are also helping me to research a new edition of my treatise, with Trisha Cowart Esq. (a former Penn State Law student), on The Law of Financial Abuse and Exploitation (Bisel). And students often suggest topics or provide stories for my work as a co-writer and editor of the Elder Law Prof Blog.
Themes in my recent scholarship include: analysis of models for long-term care and senior health care; legal implications of dementia, the need for better integration of health and social care (comparative and international perspectives), and rights and responsibilities of older adults and families.
I believe that part of my obligation as a law professor includes service to current and future lawyers. I have been an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, including serving as the chair of the PBA’s Elder Law Section. I am a regular presenter at Continuing Education Programs at the state and federal levels, on topics that include elder law, health law, legal ethics, and estate planning. Each summer I host two of our law students to attend the Pennsylvania Elder Law Institute.
In addition, I believe strongly in direct service to seniors, through my writing, my speaking, and my advocacy. I regularly speak to senior groups on topics such as how to identify and avoid financial exploitation, often teaming with law students as presenters. Recently, my research has taken me into the question of resident rights in a form of long-term care known as Continuing Care Retirement Communities or CCRCs; based on my study of state laws and contracts, I called for a national bill of CCRC resident rights in my 2010 testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.
I see community as a series of concentric circles with our law school at the center. As our students move from classes into practice around the state, the nation, and the world, I see our community growing larger, while still maintaining ties to core principles. One of my greatest delights is hearing from former students about where their studies have taken them, and thus hearing about how they expand and act on notions of service and community.
Professional careers often involve a few zigs and zags, and in counseling students, I point to my own legal career to demonstrate how surprising opportunities can lead to fulfilling, interesting jobs.
My first job was as a Legislative and Press Aide to U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Az) in the 1970s. My time in Washington overlapped with “Watergate” and thus gave me an important early window on questions of public integrity and the rule of law. A vivid memory is from August 7, 1974, when my boss was part of a small delegation of Republican legislators who went to the White House to inform then-President Nixon that there was no longer any support for him in his own political party. Nixon announced his resignation the next day.
My next job was as a Law Clerk to Chief Judge C. Clyde Atkins, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida 1979-1981. One of my toughest assignments was working on a death penalty case with an issue of first impression, the need for an articulated standard for “ineffective assistance of counsel” for the defendant. Judge Atkins granted a federal stay of execution and held a key evidentiary hearing, issuing a decision that I worked on as a law clerk. The case went on to the Supreme Court, resulting in a two-part test for establishing ineffectiveness, decided in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).
After clerking, I entered private practice, starting as an associate in 1981, and becoming a partner with two different law firms in New Mexico. In private practice I was a trial lawyer, with a wide variety of clients. One of the most challenging cases was representing a woman contesting her dismissal as a state social worker. We argued the dismissal violated due process, because it was improper retaliation for her earlier report of misconduct by her superiors. Today, her job would be better protected, as many states have adopted specific rules to help “whistleblowers.”
For two interesting years, my skills as a “trial attorney” took me in a completely different direction. I was an assistant city attorney for Albuquerque, serving as the director of a Public Safety unit, representing police officers charged with excessive force. I often say that was my toughest job, my most interesting job, and my most poorly paid job!
My transition to teaching began in 1992 as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, teaching Advocacy (NITA model), Law Practice Clinic, and the District Attorney Clinic. It was at UNM that I first saw “elder law” as an emerging field, during representation of an older man, a widower, who was the victim of financial exploitation by a seemingly well-meaning neighbor.
I enjoy exploring new places, sometimes by bicycle or on horseback, from the deserts of the Southwest to the coastlines of other countries. Part of that exploration involves the search for live music, especially singer-songwriters. I’m always open to new suggestions for spots to visit and music to enjoy.
Books and Book Chapters
The Law of Financial Abuse and Exploitation (with Trisha Cowart) (Bisel Publishing, 2011)
“Filial Support Obligations in Pennsylvania Adult Children, Parents, and Spouses,” in Elder Law in Pennsylvania (Jeffrey Marshall, ed., 3d ed. 2011)
“A Review of the Adult Safeguarding Framework in Northern Ireland, the UK, Ireland and Internationally,” commissioned by Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland (January 2014) (with co-authors and researchers on team headed by Dr. Janet Carter Anand, Principal Investigator, Queen’s University Belfast)
Selected Journal Articles
“Capacity, Conflict, and Change: Elder Law and Estate Planning Themes in an Aging World,” 117 Penn State L. Rev. 979 (2013)(Introduction to Symposium Issue)
“Older People and Legal Advice: The Need for Joined Up and Creative Approaches,” UK Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law (with J. Duffy & S. Basu), Vol. 34, No. 1. (2012), pp 31-47
“Will Continuing Care Retirement Communities Continue?” 82 Pa. B. Quarterly 69 (2011) (with Joshua Wilkins) (Symposium on the Future of Elder Law)
“The Lesson of the Irish Family Pub: The Elder Law Clinic Path to a More Thoughtful Practice,” 40 Stetson L. Rev. 237 (Fall 2010, Elder Law Symposium Issue)
The Responsible Thing to do About “Responsible Party” Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements: A Proposal for Change on Three Fronts, 37 U. Mich. J. Law Reform 757 (No. 3, 2004)