It’s not exactly the career path he envisioned, but Slade V. Dukes is ‘glad it worked out this way.’
Slade V. Dukes (right) talks elder law with Stetson corporate law professor Clark Furlow.
Motivation is never a problem for Slade V. Dukes. Every day, he hears stories of elderly Floridians being scammed, and the stories make him angry. His job heading up two elder consumer protection programs housed at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport enables him to do something about it.
"There are so many scammers, fraudsters and perpetrators out there spending their 9-to-5 trying to abuse, neglect and exploit the elderly," Dukes says. "I get to spend my 9-to-5 trying to help fix, combat and protect against all those possible wrongs."
Dukes, 35, came about his job indirectly. After graduating from Stetson's law school in 2004, he got a job working for the Florida Attorney General's economic crimes division, where he worked on cases involving false and deceptive trade practices, fraud, racketeering and price gouging. Later, he went to work for a consulting firm in Tallahassee, advising cities and counties on funding issues. After that, he joined a Tallahassee law firm and did a lot of government work. He seemed on track for a career in advocacy, which he focused on in law school, or politics, which he studied at the University of Florida. He liked what he was doing, but he missed Tampa Bay, where he lived during law school.
"I needed to make a decision," he says. "I work very hard five days a week. I want my two days off to be very nice and to be spent where I want them to be."
When he heard about the opening at Stetson to head up the Elder Consumer Protection Program and the Financial Scam and Fraud Elder Awareness Project, Dukes saw opportunity to both expand the programs and live where he wanted to live. In the three years since, Dukes has become one of the state's most prominent consumer advocates for the elderly.
Since August 2009, Dukes has made more than 120 speeches around the state to both seniors and professionals who come in contact with seniors, from law enforcement to lawyers. Dukes also organizes consumer expos, where seniors attend seminars and learn how to avoid being scammed. He also gets more than 120 calls a year from scammed seniors seeking help or others with consumer questions. Among the most common problems seniors are facing now are charity fraud, identity theft, tax scams, get-rich-quick investment schemes and home repair scams, including being pressured to buy a new roof or install a water-softening system. Healthcare fraud has become another hot topic, with seniors getting phone calls from scammers seeking to confuse them and induce them to purchase worthless insurance plans.
"We tell them if their problem is a legal issue or not a legal issue, whether they need an attorney and whether there's a social program that can assist them," Dukes says. "We're not allowed to legally represent them, to be their attorney, because we're federally and state funded, but we can look and go, 'There are legal issues here' and we'll send them to an attorney."
The elder programs only have one full-time employee — Dukes —?but he gets help from Stetson law school interns and students, who can earn pro bono hours by volunteering. He gets his funding through a variety of grants and typically gets by on a $100,000 annual budget.
Dukes, who says he "not above begging" for money to expand the programs, says he "had no idea" he would ever have a job in elder law, but he's glad it worked out this way.
"The letters I get, the thank you notes —?I get stacks of them — it's motivation to keep doing it," he says. "I like being able to put my head down on my pillow at night and know I've done good."