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Special Highlight

Staff Highlight: Jennifer Taylor

Written by Legal Aid WV

11/23/2021

Jennifer Taylor is the Lead Financial Exploitation Attorney at Legal Aid of WV (LAWV), a position that developed directly from the observation that West Virginia’s elderly were in need of advocacy against financial exploitation, often called the fastest growing silent crime of the 21st century.

Jennifer has been working in the legal community since she was just 19 years old in Fairmont, WV. Her legal career led to frequent interaction with LAWV’s Ombudsmen, who serve as advocates for those living in long-term care facilities. When a position as Ombudsman Attorney was created at LAWV, Jennifer jumped at the chance to work alongside the Ombudsmen, handing the cases they referred for more in-depth representation.

“Clients needed everything from powers of attorney to representation in mental hygiene proceedings to assistance in recovering assets taken by their family members,” says Jennifer. “It did not take long for me to realize that many of the problems faced by these clients were the result of financial exploitation. As more and more of these cases came through the door, we realized there was an entirely new area of law that needed developed, both legislatively and through the formation of a Financial Exploitation Unit at LAWV.”

Since its creation in 2016, the Financial Exploitation Unit has grown to include three attorneys and a paralegal who have represented 165 victims of financial exploitation and have recovered over $2.5 million in assets for clients. Jennifer became an active member of the West Virginia Financial Exploitation Task Force, which brings together community organizations who work with the elderly and vulnerable across the state to identify opportunities to educate and protect against financial abuse.

In addition to their impressive record for clients, the consistent advocacy of the unit and their partnerships contributed to West Virginia becoming a leader in financial exploitation protection; West Virginia was one of the first states in the country to pass significant financial exploitation legislation.

“I reported about legislation to the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC,” Jennifer says. “And I was bursting with pride when the FTC Chair commented that West Virginia and LAWV were leaders in the country fighting financial exploitation.”

Jennifer serves as the Co-chair for WV WINGS (Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders), a volunteer-run group that that she first created as a roundtable discussion opportunity for various advocates. The group later began working in conjunction with the American Bar Association and WINGS groups nationwide who gather to address guardianship issues. WV WINGS is made up of advocates, Ombudsman, financial exploitation staff, DHHR agencies, mental hygiene commissioners, WV Supreme Court of Appeals personnel, AARP, WV Disability Rights Council members, nursing home administrators, and others who have an interest in the issues.

WV WINGS is one of about 25 groups across the country who work through “collective impact” by coordinating actions of individuals and organizations with the same goals. Some of the work has focused on recommendations to the Supreme Court for new forms and rules or rolling out widespread education for courts, clerks, commissioners, and facilities.

Education is a particular passion for Jennifer, who admits she gives many “impromptu seminars, wanted or not” on topics like the difference between medical and legal capacity.

“Education and training are extremely important in all aspects of what I do. It is crucial to train the general public, facilities, social workers, the clergy, and the business community so they can recognize elder abuse, help prevent it, and know there are remedies available.”

During her tenure at LAWV, Jennifer has built the Financial Exploitation Unit into a group of strong litigators who are skilled, passionate, and excellent partners to the rest of the organization. Her mentorship has been mutually fulfilling—and at times entertaining.

“I was sitting beside our Morgantown attorney, James Lindsay, at counsel table during a trial,” she recalls. “He got so excited and passionate during his closing arguments that I had to keep ducking to avoid his waiving arms. It must have worked; we won!”

She has also found herself in situations she did not expect like narrowly avoiding being arrested alongside an Ombudsman when a person opposed to the client’s actions called the State Police on them. But precarious situations come second to the work, and the impact cannot be understated, as Jennifer says:

“Legal Aid is a voice for those who normally would not have one. Especially for financial exploitation victims, who have often gone from being independently wealthy to living on public assistance and could never afford to hire an attorney. LAWV is a means to offer resources, remedies, and closure for so very many.”

It may not sound like it, but Jennifer finds plenty of time outside of her work to spend time with her family, including her husband, Steve, son Jonathan, and her grandchildren, or as she calls them, “those beautiful, perfect little creatures that have me wrapped around each of their little fingers and still think that Grandmama hung the moon.”

Special Note:

After eight years of dedicated work at Legal Aid of WV, Jennifer Taylor is moving on to what we know will be great continued service to West Virginians. We will miss her profoundly but are proud to count her as a Legal Aid supporter going forward.

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