Carla Trinca-Conley & Kellen Bryant: Serving Baby Boomers with Care & Compassion

According to the latest statistics there are more than 51 million Americans over the age of 65. Florida, with its sunshine and healthy lifestyle, boasts the greatest proportion of seniors claiming more than 21 percent. With those numbers you’d think they would be a well-represented and even protected sector. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

Fortunately, there are dedicated attorneys who serve as watchdogs and advisors to those living out their golden years. Two of the most prominent of these are Carla Trinca-Conley and Kellen Bryant, part of the distinguished firm of Berg Bryant Elder Law Group, serving the counties of Duval, Nassau, St. Johns and Clay.

While coming from different backgrounds and life experiences, each attorney chose this specialty for strong, personal reasons.

Trinca-Conley describes growing up in a very close, tight-knit family and always felt drawn to those from older generations. “I was very close with my grandparents,” she says, “and I always knew I wanted to work in some way with the older population, I just wasn’t sure what that might look like.

 “I was drawn to law school in college, where I discovered that I could meld what I felt I was good at, in my strong writing skills and what I’ve been told is a very persuasive personality, into a career. Upon searching for the perfect school, I sought out one that specifically offered a certificate in elder law.”

Once at school, Trinca-Conley took to her studies like the proverbial duck to water.

“If you mentioned elder law, I was there,” she says with a smile. “I was president of the Elder Law Society, and I took every class I possibly could in the elder law field. There’s always a place for general practitioners, they’re wonderful, but I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to have a specialty, a set area of focus that I can absolutely master. So, that’s the way I approached it.”

Carla Trinca-Conley
CARLA TRINCA-CONLEY
Kellen Bryant
KELLEN BRYANT

Bryant also seems to have felt a special calling, and once on the path of this specialty discovered it was the ideal pairing of his talents, interests and passion.

“I saw no other way,” he says candidly. “There’s not another practice area that could scratch that itch. In the area of elder law everything feels like it comes naturally; I don’t feel like I’m working. It’s easy to come to work every day. Truthfully, I never even considered an alternative once I discovered this niche.”

What’s especially interesting is that it was a movie featuring a magnetic attorney and his relationship with an elderly client that originally sparked Bryant’s interest in the law.

“In high school I was just randomly watching TV and came across The Rainmaker,” he says. “I was just so impressed with the dynamic relationship that an attorney can create representing a client. What really impressed me was the attorney’s relationship with an elderly client. After that, I read all John Grisham’s books, but it was always that one that I really latched on to. Of course, at the time I had no idea my specialty was going to be elder law, I just knew that I wanted to practice law.”

Board Certified

Both attorneys are not only board certified in elder law but have the distinction of seeking this accreditation relatively early in their careers. Committed to assisting caregivers and families with a particular focus in asset protection planning for long-term care, special needs trusts, SSI preservation, and guardianship is what they live for.

While there are hundreds of attorneys in Jacksonville, only five are board certified in elder law. As most legal professionals are aware, earning the status of board certification is a complex and often arduous process that requires not only knowledge and expertise, but also a certain number of years of reputable practice as well as the recommendation of your peers.

Interestingly, both attorneys set this goal early on, anxious to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Trinca-Conley is one of the youngest elder law attorneys in the state of Florida, and very possibly the youngest to be board certified.

“I passed the bar when I was 25,” she says, “and I sat for the board certification exam as soon as I possibly could. In Florida, the requirements are that you have a minimum of five years in practice along with the other criteria. I applied to take the exam when I was 30 and actually took it when I was 31, and very thankfully passed on the first try. I have to say that studying during COVID was quite a unique experience.”

Bryant was equally focused on achieving this status.

“I knew I wanted to become board certified very early on,” he says. “Even when I first started practicing, although I didn’t articulate myself as an elder law attorney, I knew I wanted to do transactional law which ultimately grew into elder law. Once it really crystalized that was where my true interest was, which was in late 2010, I decided that I was going to become board certified as quickly as I could accomplish it.

“Thankfully, I was able to identify my specialty relatively quickly and set about making the time to prepare for the exam while growing the practice,” he continues. “At the time when I was prepping for it, I didn’t have the luxury or energy to study for it like I did for the bar. I definitely tried to plan my studying by taking as many pertinent elder law cases as possible, not so much to learn on the job, but rather to perfect on the job. I realized that if you’re not looking far enough in the future with the intent of becoming board certified, you can’t expect to just wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, I think I’ll do this.’ It really requires both time and a lot of preparation.”

SHELBY REINWALD HABING, KELLEN BRYANT AND CARLA TRINCA-CONLEY

A Passion for People

When an attorney is drawn to a specific specialty there is usually a deep-seated reason, certainly it’s not a random decision. For both Trinca-Conley and Bryant the appeal of practicing elder law was a combination of compassion and a desire to have a practice that guides clients in their time of need.

“Guardianship cases are often very emotional for clients,” says Trinca-Conley. “Helping families navigate a very challenging and niche area of the law requires strong advocation, always coupled with empathy. All the effort is worth it knowing the impact you make every day.  This is probably one of the few specialties where you get a lot of hugs from your clients. 

“I also run the probate department at Berg Bryant,” she adds. “It is very fulfilling work when I am able to advise clients who are dealing with a loss. Anytime a loved one passes away, the family just wants some direction and guidance. You’re filling a need while feeling like you’re giving back and really supporting the family during a very difficult time.”

Taking time with each client is of paramount importance to Bryant and everyone at the firm.

“I really enjoy meeting with clients, and I feel one of the things that makes our firm unique is the importance we put on face-to-face time and discovering the situation and reviewing options. It’s just a question of taking the time with a person to understand what they really want.”

Two Hats

Bryant’s role as co-founder and managing partner of the firm creates not just double duty but twice the rewards. Although he began his career as a solo practitioner, he found both inspiration from and admiration for his co-founder Rebecca Berg.

“I realized right out of law school that if I was going to best serve my career I would have to go after it myself and take control,” he says. “I started my own practice in 2009 and with very few contacts and very little money. I spent the next seven years discovering my strengths and weaknesses and evolving. Then, in 2016, I merged my practice with attorney Rebecca Berg, who was the first to be board certified in elder law in Jacksonville. The merger with Rebecca was like rocket fuel to my practice’s growth.”

As Berg Bryant continues to thrive, the firm strives to clear up misconceptions regarding Medicaid and durable powers of attorney. “We are in the trenches, working with caregivers named as agent under durable power of attorney, and we find that they’re coming to us with bad ideas about selling protected homestead to pay for nursing home care or with a durable power of attorney not up to date with the 2011 law changes – even today,” Bryant says. “When someone is down to the end of their life savings while facing $10,000 a month in nursing home bills, every dollar preserved toward his or her care matters. The information that caregivers are armed with matters – with clarity and a plan, our clients will get the best possible care.”

I realized right out of law school that if I was going to best serve my career I would have to go after it myself and take control.

Berg Bryant Elder Law Group PLLC

7545 Centurion Parkway, Suite 108
Jacksonville, FL 32256
(904)398-6100
bbelderlaw.com

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