From Ageism to AI: A SNT 2023 Recap

A collage of images from a conference featuring people networking and speaking.
Stetson Law’s 2023 National Conference on Special Needs Planning and Special Needs Trusts.

Over 400 professionals whose work involves assisting clients with special needs trusts gathered for Stetson Law’s 25th Annual National Conference on Special Needs Planning and Special Needs Trusts October 19 & 20.

As always, the event took place at the Vinoy Result & Golf Club in downtown St. Petersburg. The programming was as enlightening and informative as ever, thanks to presenters who brought a blend of topical subject matter and expert understanding of the intricacies of public policy affecting the special needs planning and trusts space. Outside the meeting rooms, attendees mingled with a diverse array of sponsors and exhibitors.

Subject matter ranged from detailed legislative updates to ageism and its effects.

Overcoming ageism

A Thursday morning keynote by Dr. Tracey Gendron, chair and professor if gerontology at Virginia Commonwealth University and executive director of the Virgina Center on Aging, invited attendees to think differently about what it means to age.

“When we talk about aging just as a process of decline, we are missing a lot of nuance; we are missing a lot of important parts of the story that really encapsulate the whole that is aging,” Gendron said. “Aging includes decline, but aging is also about how we change and grow: psychologically, emotionally, socially, spiritually. Aging is the holistic process of change, development, growth, over time – and that is the story less told.”

Regardless of how old one is, Gendron said, they are aging. And anytime one assumes something about someone based on their age, regardless of whether someone is young or old – think generational stereotypes – it is ageism. It can also be internally directed. Ageism can have detrimental effects.

“The truth is, we are all aging. Aging is the one universal thing that connects us all,” she said. “So when we talk about the aging as others, what do you think that means? Well, any kind of othering leads to stigma, leads to discrimination, leads to marginalization, and oppression. So, aging we need to reframe as this universal experience we all share that is contextualized as growth, development, change, and adaptation over time.”

An AI primer

Stetson’s Bruce R. Jacob Visiting Professor of Law Mason Clark said he may not be a trusts expert, but he is an expert in privacy and cybersecurity law. He came to SNT to share information on a subject he knows well: artificial intelligence (AI), and how lawyers can use it.

Think of AI as an old-fashioned fold-out toolbox, he said, with implements created for different purposes. Most fall into two main categories: generative and predictive, which use machine learning and deep learning to assist users. Generative AI, he said, is currently having the biggest impact, with programs like ChatGPT and DALL-E helping firms in unprecedented ways.

“We’re seeing more productivity measurements for associates in firms, we’re seeing an increase in client-facing deliverables requiring generative AI, whether that be visualization that we’ve never had the capability to do before, sophisticated predictive analytics on how likely it is a client will succeed, how much we think you’re going to spend in fees to achieve that result,” Clark said.

Firms can use AI to model years’ worth of future revenue, thereby helping smaller firms target resources in ways that help close the gap with large firms – if done appropriately.

“I think there are a lot of wasteful ways to use AI, both generative and predictive. I think there are a lot of companies that are charging astronomical amounts to use a certain platform, a certain product, a certain application, that might not actually help your practice all that much,” Clark said, adding that resources like Consumer Reports, International Association of Privacy Professionals, podcasts and blogs like Law360 can help firms choose the right platform.

As for whether jobs in the legal profession will be replaced by AI tools en masse – a common concern for workplaces across sectors – Clark said he sees minimal impacts – as long as you’re willing to adapt.

“I don’t think AI will replace as many attorneys as you think it will… unless you’re unwilling or unable to adapt and learn how AI can help,” he said.

In photos: SNT 2023

A man with a gray ponytail and a Hawaiian shirt speaks at a microphone in front of a screen that says "The Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963."
Six young professionals pose for a photo in front of a banner that reads "T E A M - All-in-one payroll & HR solutions for domestic employees."
Dozens of conference attendees look to the front of the room, where a slide from a presentation displays the words "kitchen modifications."
Viewed from the front of the room, dozens of attendees watch a session of a large conference while taking notes on their laptop computers and in their notebooks.
Viewed from the back of the room, dozens of attendees watch a presentation at a large conference.
A woman with long blonde hair sits at a table with the sign "FNT" and listens attentively as a woman with dark hair and a bright red shirt speaks expressively.
A woman wearing a beige suit jacket and a man wearing a black suit and glasses smile at a podium while taking questions from the audience.
Two men stand and have a friendly conversation outside of a conference room.
Three men wearing suits sit at a table in front of a conference audience
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Frequently asked questions, answered 

In an interactive, broad-reaching conversation with his audience, Los Angeles-based elder law attorney and past National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) president Stuart Zimring fielded questions from his audience on a range of topics during a “Top 10 Tips” session.

Among his key takeaways:

  • Take the time to develop the SNT to fit the beneficiary.
  • Have your “spidey senses” ready.
  • Never hesitate to say “no.”
  • The biggest takeaway? Make sure the beneficiary is always at the center of any conversation about a special needs trust.

“We are here to help ensure quality of life,” Zimring said, not just to grow the amount of money in a trust.

Other SNT 2023 highlights included a Veterans Benefits Intensive led by Judge Michael Allen and Law Professor Stacey-Rae Simcox, Director of Stetson’s Veterans Law Institute; “The Update,” a perennially popular SNT fixture that featured Elizabeth N.R. Friman and Robert Fechtman; and a session titled “Foxes and Henhouses – A Deep Dive Into Potential (and real) Conflicts of Interest and Other Ethical Issues for Trustees of SNTS” featuring Stetson Law alumnus Slade Dukes, Will Lucius, Briget Swartz, and Stuart Zimring.

Learn more about SNT 2023.