Katherine C. Pearson

Katherine C. Pearson

Professor of Law
Arthur L. and Sandra S. Piccone Faculty Scholar

Email: kcp4@psu.edu 
Phone: 717-240-5219
SSRN Profile
Personal Webpage

J.D., University of Miami 
B.A., University of Arizona


Pearson on Teaching

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 Nonprofit Organizations Law, we examine the special rules for operating as tax-exempt enterprises.

Pearson on Scholarship

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.

Pearson on Service

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.

Pearson on Community

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.

Pearson's Engagement with the Profession

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.

Pearson's Outside Interests

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.  

Pearson's Publications

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)


Can Guardians for Adult Patients Assist Health Care Professional to Provide Coordinated Care?” – Penn State Cancer Institute poster presentation by Mimi Miller, J.D. Candidate 2021, under guidance of Dr. Eugene Lengerich and Professor Katherine Pearson, August 6, 2019

The Stage is Well Set — The Pennsylvania Legislature’s Important Role in Guardianship Reform, September 19, 2018

Review of Legislation and Policy Guidance Relations to Adult Social Care (in Northern Ireland and Internationally, including the US),” commissioned by Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland (June 2015) (with co-authors and researchers, on team headed by Dr. Joe Duffy, Principal Investigator, Queen’s University Belfast).

Report and Recommendations of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Elder Law Task Force,” (November 2014), as a member of task force, during its 18-month investigation, chaired by The Honorable Debra Todd, Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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

Ongoing Challenges for Pennsylvania Continuing Care and Life Plan Communities,” (with Prof. David Sarcone), PA B. Quarterly, Vol. __, No. 1., pp 1-15 (January 2019) (with Prof. David Sarcone)

The Perils of Serving As a Financial Caregiver,” Bifocal: Journal of ABA Commission on Law and Aging, Vo. 39, No. 3 (2018)

“Implications of Divergences in Adult Protection Legislation,” UK Journal of Adult Protection (with Lorna Montgomery, et al.), Vol. 18, No. 3 (2016), pp 1-11.

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)

Filial Support Laws in the Modern Era: Domestic and International Comparison of Enforcement Practices for Laws Requiring Adult Children to Support Indigent Parents,” 20 Elder Law Journal 269 (2013)

“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. Rev237 (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)

Pearson in the Media

Kiplinger’s Retirement Report (December 2018) interviews Professor Pearson about refundable fee agreements

Choose Agents for Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy Carefully,” in Kiplinger's Retirement Report

Professor Pearson authors timely piece on Senior Safe Act for WealthManagement.com

Professor Pearson for The New York Times: “How to Talk About Moving to a Retirement Home: ‘It’s A Journey’”

Professor Pearson testifies before Pennsylvania House Committee on Aging and Older Adults Services on the topic of enhanced roles for law schools, clinics, legal aid organizations and private lawyers in providing better access for older adults to legal and economic justice

Professor Pearson interviewed by Reuters News columnist on recent reports of exploitation by court-appointed guardians

“Snake Oil,” Tattoos & Why Some Hospice Doctors Prefer Medical Powers of Attorney: More Highlights from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Conference on “The Aging Brain”

Legal Implications of Biomarkers for Dementia Highlight ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Conference on "The Aging Brain"

Professor Katherine Pearson on caring for an elderly parent or relative from afar in Kiplinger's Retirement Report

Professor Katherine Pearson explains why long-term care facilities are sometimes “Going After Kids for Parents’ Care Costs” for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report

Professor Pearson on the financial risk of continuing care retirement communities

Professor Pearson comments on filial responsibility in "Children may have to foot bill for indigent parents' care" in philly.com

Professor Pearson uses her international, comparative law experience to discuss ways to fight financial elder abuse in Project M.

Professor Katherine Pearson discusses “The Everything-in-One Promise of a Continuing Care Community,” in The New York Times

Professor Katherine Pearson discusses Cuban Health Care System with WIFT Smart Talk

Professor Pearson discusses Elder Law Task Force Report recommendations on WITF-Smart Talk

Professor Pearson comments in Bloomberg News on sex-abuse case involving wife with dementia

Professor Katherine Pearson featured on HuffPost: Are you the adult in your family? 

Katherine Pearson on statutory obligation for long-term care in "The Savings Game"

Katherine Pearson explains filial support laws in The Daily Beast

Professor Pearson discusses CCRCs in the New York Times column “The New Old Age”

AARP blog cites Professor Katherine Pearson's "Beware of Befrienders"

Professor Pearson provides advice on filial responsibility for LA Times column

Professor Pearson explains Medicare vs. Medicaid on NPR's Marketplace Money

Professor Katherine Pearson shares insights on filial support for aging parents

Planning a move to a retirement community? Professor Katherine Pearson's Tips.

Professor Katherine Pearson and several alumni to serve on Pennsylvania Supreme Court Elder Law Task Force

Professor Katherine Pearson on nursing home debt collection research

Professor Katherine Pearson encourages states and CCRC operators to prioritize residents' rights

Professor Pearson quoted in WSJ article "Are you on the hook for Mom's nursing home bill?"

Professor Pearson explains family support case on Radio Smart Talk

Professor Pearson on Pennsylvania filial support case to Business Insider

Professor Katherine Pearson explains new filial support case to ABCNews.com

Professor Pearson on protections for whistle-blowers in long-term care facilities

Professor Pearson discusses filial support laws on Australian national radio

Professor Pearson to speak on preventing elder abuse

Professor Pearson studies elderly access to justice

Professor Katherine Pearson to chair London conference at the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies

Professor Pearson to address financial abuse of seniors at seminar in Ireland

Professor Pearson discusses the elderly as targets of fraud on WITF-Smart Talk

Professors co-author book on the law of financial abuse and exploitation

Professor Katherine Pearson on continuing care retirement communities

Professor Pearson to testify before U.S. Senate Committee on Aging

Professor Pearson will speak at Brunel University in London

Two law faculty members receive Fulbright awards

Professor Pearson quoted in national media about filial support laws