Main Menu Main Content
Printer Friendly

The Story of Karen L. Nicolson, Esq.

For seniors in Western New York, legal counsel knows no age limit. The is due in part to the Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of Western New York, Inc. (LSED) – a nonprofit group of lawyers, paralegals, and social workers dedicated to improving the quality of life for the region’s elderly, disabled, and low-income residents. The organization’s executive director, Karen Nicolson, explains how the area provides an ideal nurturing environment to them to carry out their mission.

"We have a great legal community where people are involved and connected, particularly with organizations similar to ours," she said. "Our state puts a focus on community. And Western New York is a great place to practice law."

LSED provides services with high impact for senior citizens, including health care, housing, guardianship issues and substituted decision-making, public benefits, consumer protection, kinship care (e.g., grandparents and great-grandparents taking care of children), and elder abuse prevention. And the need continues to grow. The organization annually services close to 3,000 seniors in Western New York, while nearly doubling their staff – now totaling 35 – in the past four years. However, Nicolson caveats that this rewarding work can sometimes carry emotional weight.

"A lot of the work we do tugs on the heart strings," she said. "We once helped a woman whose son sold her house and kept the proceeds. He wouldn’t even buy her a couch for her apartment. When we helped her retrieve her money, he stopped calling. She’s independent now, but it was a difficult decision for her to make [to pursue legal action]."

With seniors representing nearly 25 percent of Erie County’s population, LSED continues to raise its profile in the community. The organization convenes more than 100 outreach events each year – visiting senior centers and health fairs, while targeting a range of other locations where they can be visible for prospective clients who may need legal services. They also work closely with nonprofits including Meals on Wheels and Erie County Senior Services, who add a layer of in-person familiarity for an aging demographic. Nicolson notes that this kind of broad exposure is a necessary exercise to overcome communication barriers with those they serve.

"In many cases, we rely on visibility and word of mouth for our clients to hear about us," she said. "We want them to know that we are here when they need us, and that we can help them live independently and with dignity."

One of the organization’s events is the Champions for Justice Bash, an annual fundraiser co-organized with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project. The event started in 2008 as an anniversary celebration for both organizations’ impactful community work. Today, it serves as an important annual gathering for peers to reconnect and build on a camaraderie fostered by a shared commitment to pro bono legal service.

Looking ahead, Nicolson wants to develop stronger presence in regional counties including Orleans, Allegheny, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Niagara, and others. From an organizational standpoint, geographic expansion is an essential focus for broadening their services and supporting the region’s elderly. But on a higher level, it reflects the spirit of LSED and its staff to invest time to help those in need.

"Our lawyers work incredibly hard," she said. "Any one of them could get private firm jobs, and they choose to take lower pay. They choose this because they want to make a difference in the world. Together, we want to make Western New York a better community."

To learn more about Karen and LSED, visit