Raising her hand, opening her heart
With a broad smile, Bay Area native Sally Berman jokes that she’s always been “the first one to raise her hand.” And when she does something, she goes all-in.
She started her career at a San Francisco law firm as a secretary, and eventually became a paralegal. At the urging of her colleagues, she went back to night law school to earn her JD, while still working at her full-time day job. She then became a successful litigation attorney in the same firm representing people suffering from accidents or property damage.
But family comes first for Sally, so when her twin sister was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, Sally took leave of her career to spend more time with her. After her sister’s passing, Sally found that her trust documents had been poorly prepared. This added an extra burden on top of the grief the family felt.
“It really saddled my brother-in-law with a lot of unnecessary work,” she says. “As an attorney, it angered me for my profession. I knew I could do better.”
That’s just what she’s doing now. After going back to school to earn an LLM – Master of Laws in Elder Law and Estate Planning – Sally is now one of just a handful of elder law attorneys in San Mateo County. In addition to estate and end-of-life care planning, she helps clients qualify and apply for Medi-Cal and VA pension benefits.
She usually visits clients in their homes, where she says these conversations can be easier. “One of the beauties of practicing law on my own is that I can spend as much time as I want with my clients,” she says. “You finish a meeting, and your client hugs you! This doesn’t happen to a lot of attorneys. ”
Not long after she started her elder law practice, Sally’s good friend (and longtime Mission Hospice board member) Kathryn Breaux suggested that she consider joining the board.
Sally dove right in. She was elected to our board in January 2016, and shortly afterwards began training to become a direct care volunteer. Raising her hand repeatedly, she’s attended almost every community education event we’ve offered in the last couple of years.
She’s continually opening her heart to our patients and families, having visited many patients in their homes and at Mission House. She volunteers to sit vigil with actively dying patients who would otherwise be alone.
“Our volunteers are such a wonderful resource,” Sally continues. “Providing respite for caregivers is one of our most important roles. Our patients and families are afforded an incredible sense of dignity,” Sally says. “I know from personal experience how important that is.”
“The hospice volunteer work and my elder law work require the same heartset and mindset,” Sally says. “It’s where my heart is – and I really feel I’ve helped people. I just love this work.”