Joan Munn: Law as a Fourth Career

Paralegal Joan Munn, who assists with Medicaid planning, guardianship, and estate planning cases, didn’t always have a legal career.  After obtaining a degree in bio-chemistry and working as a soil microbiologist for Schering Plough, she decided to attend culinary school.  Upon graduating, she opened a bakery in Eastchester, New York, where she and her husband David employed a staff of 15 for nearly a decade,  selling to walk-in customers, as well as to restaurants and country clubs.

“It got to be too much work after a while,” she explains, “so we moved to Arizona, where my husband joined his family’s business, APF, which frames artwork for museums throughout the U.S. and Europe—including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre.

In Arizona, Joan taught at a private school for children with behavioral problems, and it was there that she met the person who would prove instrumental in her career switch.  The mother of one of her students was married to the county attorney, and Joan began working for him on weekends.  He noted her aptitude for the law and encouraged her to study for a  paralegal certificate, after which she worked full-time for the county.

When her husband took charge of  APF’s East Coast operations and the family  moved back to New York, Joan joined  the Armonk firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP as a case manager.

In 2004, she came to work for Littman Krooks. “There’s a lot about elder law that seniors find confusing,” she explains, “structuring finances to maximize their eligibility for government benefit programs.”  She adds that, although parents may have reached a point where they need assistance, they’re sometimes reluctant to sign a power of attorney or other estate planning documents for fear of losing control.  This can cause family friction and hurt feelings, and Joan frequently helps clients and their loved ones through this process. “The Medicaid process can be confusing and even scary,” says Joan.  “There are lots of misconceptions about eligibility, what happens to income, and what will be covered.”

Joan helps to prepare estate planning documents and acts as liaison with nursing homes, keeping them informed of clients’ Medicaid status.  She prepares all the financial statements and transaction histories required for Medicaid applications, which is a detailed and complex procedure.

Joan talks about first meeting another Littman Krooks paralegal, Diana Steinberg, during her cooking school days, then losing track of her.  Twenty years later, they ended up at the same law firm. “It’s an amazing coincidence,” she remarks, “that without having any contact for decades, we made the same career switch and ended up in the same office.”

Joan and her husband have four daughters—Emily, who is a special education teacher, working with first graders; Julie, who is a direct caregiver at Putnam ARC and worked during college vacations for Littman Krooks; and twins Laura and Miriam, who will be attending college in the fall.  Since January, they have also had a foster daughter, Hang Zhen.