Military and Veteran Pro Bono Opportunities for New Lawyers

Nicholas Hasenfus
Providing military and veteran pro bono services benefits the community and offers interesting, rewarding, and substantive legal work.

Providing military and veteran pro bono services benefits the community and offers interesting, rewarding, and substantive legal work.

Willowpix via iStock

The ABA Military Pro Bono Project—managed by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP)—accepts case referrals from military attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel facing civil legal issues, and it works to place these cases with pro bono attorneys. The Project is also the platform for Operation Stand-By, through which military attorneys and other pro bono attorneys may seek attorney-to-attorney guidance.

As a new attorney, it is important to remember your responsibility to give back to the community, even as you are first thrust into the practice of law. Pro bono work will help you develop the critical lawyering skills that are vital to your professional development. It can reinvigorate and motivate you, especially if you are discontent with your level of responsibility and are not developing at the pace you anticipated. Providing quality, life-changing legal services to the men and women who have served our country and defended our freedoms is a valuable community commitment. 

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Litigation Opportunities

There are many military and veteran pro bono opportunities available to meet your interests and practice area. For example, if you are interested in litigation experience, you may consider defending a service member or veteran in an eviction matter.

In a pro bono engagement, I defended a POW Vietnam War veteran from a no-fault eviction from his month-to-month lease. He lived with his wife, daughter, and mother-in-law. When I first met him, he was distraught because the landlord demanded that they vacate the premises before his daughter could complete the school year. The landlord was seeking thousands in damages. In the end, we arranged for him and his family to remain on the premises until the end of his daughter’s school year. We also obtained a full refund of the security deposit (and paid no damages), assisted him in buying his first home, and found an organization to cover his moving costs.

Non-Litigation Opportunities

There are many non-litigation opportunities available. For example, attorneys may assist veterans with discharge upgrades. Representation regarding a bad conduct discharge from the military for conditions related to PTSD from military sexual trauma or combat requires a written brief but does not require an oral argument.

Attorneys may assist veterans in receiving service-connected disability compensation for medical conditions related to their military service. This representation requires completing forms, obtaining the necessary evidence to support the claim, and preparing the veterans for medical exams. Finally, qualified veterans and survivors are eligible for unique benefits if they require help with daily activities.

The VA requires attorneys to obtain VA accreditation to assist with a VA benefits claim, but that process is not complicated and does not require an exam. Representation generally requires completing forms and developing necessary medical, income, and expense evidence.

Finding Pro Bono Opportunities

Consider seeking military and veteran pro bono opportunities from organizations that provide mentoring and training. You will know that you are providing quality legal services and gaining the necessary experience and expertise needed.

The following list is an example of some of the military and veteran pro bono opportunities available. 

ABA Military Pro Bono Project

The ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel manages the Military Pro Bono Project, which accepts civil case referrals from military attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and places them with pro bono attorneys.

Veteran Legal Services (VLS)

VLS offers free legal services and counseling to low-income military veterans throughout Massachusetts and serves approximately 700 veterans each year. VLS staff attorneys work closely with their pro bono partners and provide free professional development opportunities about veteran-specific legal matters throughout the year.

The Veterans Consortium (TVC)

TVC runs several nationwide pro bono programs. One supplies representation before the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for veterans who had claims unjustly denied by the VA.

Another program affords pro bono representation to veterans who have received an Other Than Honorable Discharge due to conduct related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, or other mental health issues.

TVC provides training and ongoing mentorship to its volunteer attorneys.

Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership

Established by the Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC) at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, VLC screens and refers veterans seeking discharge upgrades to private attorneys and then provides them with ongoing support and resources throughout the case.

Providing military and veteran pro bono services benefits the community and offers interesting, rewarding, and substantive legal work. As a new attorney, this may be the perfect way to fulfill your responsibility to give back to the community.

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Nicholas Hasenfus is an associate at Holland & Knight in Boston. He is a co-chair of H&K’s Veterans Group, a member of the ABA’s Standing Committee for Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, and a member of Legal Service Corporation’s Veterans Task Force.