If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail – so the old saying goes.
That’s true of many lawyers. Many go straight from college to law school and law school to work in a law firm – even their summers are spent clerking for firms or judges. But if law is the only tool in your toolbox, a legalistic approach is your only frame of reference to address the problems clients bring to you.
That is one of the reasons Attorney Gelbman is different from most lawyers – she has not always been a lawyer. Gelbman earlier enjoyed success in two non-legal careers – one as a computer analyst for a major international computer company; the second in broadcast radio and television. In those jobs she traveled around the globe; learning about other languages and cultures as well as international business practices and technology. Only much later did she attend college, graduating with honors and a shortly thereafter completing law school near the top of her class. Why is this important? In contrast to many highly skilled lawyers, Gelbman approaches her clients’ problems and concerns using a variety of experiences, education and skills that includes, but is not limited to, a legal toolkit. A difference in style – and in substance.
Following law school, Gelbman went to work for a large law firm in Boston and spent valuable “hammer time” in the litigation department honing her new legal skills under the supervision of senior, experienced lawyers.
In mid-2009 Gelbman relocated to Virginia to care for her suddenly sick and now aging parents in Lynchburg, Virginia as well as two new grandchildren in Northern Virginia.
It was in this transition – from high powered “big-firm” attorney in Boston to primary caregiver for her own parents in Lynchburg – that Gelbman learned about the difficulties the sick, aging and their families must face everyday. And the challenges faced by their caregivers. She learned that the father she had always known as a highly capable, confident and competent man was now aged, weak, very sick, and often confused, depressed and frightened. And mother, who had always partnered him through thick and thin for better or for worse – was suddenly worn out, confused, overwhelmed, emotionally overwrought and unsure of what to do and to whom to turn for help. They needed help; they needed an advocate.
Endless hours in hospitals and nursing facilities revealed that many, many patients and residents need the same. But they did not have an advocate to help them. No one to speak for them when they cannot speak for themselves. No one to ask the tough questions of the doctors, the treatment team and social workers. No one to deal with Medicare or other insurers when the bills pile up in astronomical amounts. No one to push back against the bill collectors. No one to help understand the thick contracts shoved at them by nursing facilities or the endless piles of forms from Social Service and healthcare workers. No one to apply for Veterans Benefits or Medicaid. No one to hire and monitor and the myriad caregivers and in home service providers that suddenly became necessary for their safety and well being. No one to manage and administer the tens of complex and potentially dangerous medications. No one. No one they could rely upon and trust and who understood what the problems were and how they were feeling – exhausted, sick, in pain, depressed, overmedicated, overwhelmed. And many were declining precipitously as a result. Some had even been neglected, abused, defrauded and exploited – by the very caregivers they trusted!
Gelbman learned that when the elderly – or their adult children – have an advocate – someone reliable and understanding to help plan with you, to speak for you when you need it, to help you weigh options and make good decisions, the older adult (and their family members) can concentrate on what is far more important: getting better and maintaining the best possible quality of life. Good care, better nutrition, fighting infection and depression, working on the physical and occupational therapy – these are the things that keep elders independent and allow them to stay safe and comfortable – and more often at home.
After success stabilizing her own parents’ situation, Gelbman decided to help those who were having difficulty helping themselves.
While waiting for her Virginia law license, she assisted in editing the latest edition of the definitive Massachusetts Practice manual’s section on Elder Law, working with Massachusetts most experienced elder law clinicians. Simultaneously, she volunteered for pro-bono work through the Elder Law Initiative at Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia under LAJC’s senior staff elder-law attorneys. Also during this period and for the next two years, she volunteered with the Jefferson Area Board of Aging (JABA) to do work as a trained, volunteer ombudsman. As an ombudsman, she worked in local nursing homes to protect residents’ rights and assist residents and their families to resolve problems as a neutral third party advocate.
After successfully passing the Virginia Bar Exam, Gelbman opened her own practice and within a single year, developed a thriving practice and remains in high demand.
Gelbman is still an active volunteer and handling pro bono cases for low income citizens through Central Virginia Legal Aid Services (CVLAS) . She also serves as a member of the steering committee of Geriatric Collaborative of Central Virginia (GCCV). She is a member of the Good Life Design Collaborative. She is an active proponent of measures to prevent Elder Abuse and Exploitation through agencies such as the Greater Augusta Coalition Against Adult Abuse (GACAAA) and more recently has intensely engaged with the Charlottesville and Albemarle County criminal justice system and social services to build similar active protection for our community.
Ms. Gelbman is a frequent and popular speaker presenting on legal topics of interest to seniors. She appears monthly at the Charlottesville Senior Center (see “Events” tab on this website for more information), often at the Northside Library and annually lectures for the University of Virginia’s Law School Elder Law Clinic on issues related to Mental Capacity.
In 2015, Gelbman began working closely with a patient advocacy firm, Blue Ridge Patient Advocacy (BRPA) which provides professional social work and case management services. Clients of both firms may enjoy an even wider level of expertise and support. Both Gelbman Law and BRPA have close associations with other professionals helping to address the full spectrum of needs presented by our exploding aging populations – legal, social, medical financial, therapeutic and much more.
Gelbman is an active member of the Charlottesville/Albemarle Bar Association (CABA) and the local Women’s Bar section as well as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and its Virginia chapter, VAELA
Doris Gelbman is licensed to practice in all Virginia and Massachusetts state courts as well as the Federal District Court of Massachusetts and the Federal 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a Department of Veterans Affairs certified attorney.
- Hierarchy of Sources for Choice of Law at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda And Yugoslavia
- Politics, Religion and Money in the Maryland-Virginia Boundary Dispute (awarded the 2001 Wilcomb E. Washburn Student Prize for History)
- International Law & Foreign Policy
- History and Genealogy