Veteran’s Legal Clinic and Pro Bono Society receive grants

April 24, 2012

by Käri Knutson

Two new grants will help University of Wisconsin law students gain valuable experience while helping veterans who need legal assistance.

The two Pro Bono Initiative grants for $5,000 each come from the State Bar Legal Assistance Committee and have been awarded to Dane County Veterans Legal Clinic to start a free legal clinic and to the UW Law School Pro Bono Program to expand its efforts to involve more law students in pro bono activities.

"There's a serious gap in legal assistance for vets," says Ann Zimmerman, pro bono coordinator for the law school. "So many are coming back from overseas and have nowhere to turn."

Legal issues veterans may face include foreclosure, divorce and custodial matters.

The new free legal clinic for veterans in the Dane County area is scheduled to open Veterans Day, Nov. 12, 2012. The project is administered by the UW Law School's Pro Bono Program and is a collaborative effort with initial support from the Dane County Veterans Service Office, the State Bar of Wisconsin pro bono program, representatives from the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison and the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior program. Volunteer attorneys and law students will staff the clinic at the local veterans service office in Madison which will be modeled after a similar program in Milwaukee.

"Programs like the veterans' clinic help students develop professional skills and gain experience in a real work environment," Zimmerman says.

Students will make connections in the legal community and also learn more about what area of law interests them, Zimmerman says.

"They'll get exposed to issues and people they might not have been exposed to before," Zimmerman says. "It's an enlightening experience that may open their eyes to career and service possibilities they hadn't previously considered."

The Law School launched its Pro Bono Society in September 2011 to recognize efforts of law students engaged in pro bono during their tenure at UW and the UW Law School Pro Bono Program provides them with opportunities for them to do so. Students are inducted into the Pro Bono Society and graduate with pro bono distinction after performing numerous hours of pro bono work. This past December, six graduates achieved that honor.

"Some people in our community are so desperate for help," Zimmerman says. "By participating in pro bono activities, the students are learning that there's a lot of satisfaction in listening to and helping someone with a difficult issue."