Clifton B. Kruse, Jr., Esq. Selma's Cat and Other Things That Matter: A Lawyer's Intimate Conversations With His Elder Clients. Tucson, AZ. National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, 2004. $30 on Amazon.
Perhaps more than any other legal specialty, the field of elder law calls on its practitioners not only to be good attorneys but to be sensitive and compassionate people as well. For many in the field, attorney Clifton B. Kruse, Jr., has set the standard for all that an elder law attorney can and should be. The Colorado Springs practitioner, one of elder law's founding fathers, combines a gentlemanly charm, warmth and caring with one of the sharpest legal minds in the business.
The truth of this will become clear to readers of this collection of poignant essays by Kruse. The essays, Kruse's reflections on encounters with clients culled from his now more than 40 years of practice, convey just how difficult, heartrending, but ultimately rewarding the job of an elder law attorney can be '“ and how it often takes a master humanitarian and emotional tactician like Kruse to meet the challenge.
In one essay, Kruse skillfully succeeds in upsetting the schemes of a reptilian elder exploiter who has designs on the estate of a dying woman. In another, Kruse is visited by a potential client who insists on disposing of her assets in a way that would not be in her own best interests. After gentle probing by Kruse, it becomes clear that the woman is severely depressed. Unable to talk her out of her self-defeating plan, Kruse reluctantly but firmly declines to represent her. In the title story, Kruse saves an 89-year-old woman from eviction, thus also saving the stray cat she feeds.
Kruse is that "old fashioned" attorney who regularly goes the extra mile for his clients '“ visiting them in their homes, reassuringly holding a trembling hand, and even temporarily adopting the toy poodle of a client who dies without having made arrangements. When Kruse tells yet another distraught client, "I'll be right over," readers may find themselves wondering where he found the time in a busy law practice. The reality is that he did and no doubt still does, and his clients were and are the better for it.
A side-benefit to reading Selma's Cat is that it will likely enlarge one's vocabulary. While Kruse is a lucid and plain-spoken writer, there is clearly something of the poet and word lover lurking inside his lawyerly exterior. Every so often he'll toss in a $10 word like "phatic," "quodlibet," or "symbiont" that may have readers reaching for the dictionary (as this one did). Not only this, but the book is a short refresher course in Western literature as well; footnoted quotations from everyone from Catullus to Shakespeare to Keats abound.
This inspiring collection of essays could have been even better in two small ways. First, the text size is quite small -- a particularly surprising choice given the book's subject and potential audience. Second, Selma's Cat could have benefited from the services of a proofreader; there are more than a few spelling errors. But this is minor carping.
By trade, elder law attorneys are professionally committed to making life better for the clients they serve. In Selma's Cat, Clifton Kruse makes it clear that his elderly clients have enriched his own life. As he writes, "How fortunate we are to have the age-wizened elders as clients. We learn from them '“ genuine people, whose lives are shared with us."
Full disclosure: In his acknowledgments, Kruse thanks ElderLawAnswers' founder and president Harry Margolis for his encouragement of Kruse's writing and this book project.