UW Law School launches Veterans Law Center

Nov. 2, 2012

by Käri Knutson

Legal assistance for Dane County veterans will be available starting Thursday, Nov. 8 when the University of Wisconsin Law School launches the new Veterans Law Center.

The first clinic will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Madison's City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with brief remarks at 10 a.m.

The center will help veterans with civil legal services and information. The first clinic comes just before Veterans Day, observed on Monday, Nov. 12, and will continue to operate from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the second Thursday of every month at the City-County Building and from 4 to 6 p.m. the fourth Thursday of every month at Porchlight, Inc., 306 N. Brooks St.

Volunteer attorneys, paralegals and UW law students will staff the center.

Photo: Ann Zimmerman

Zimmerman

"We're always looking for pro bono opportunities for students," says Ann Zimmerman, pro bono director for the Law School. "This is a great way for our students to get experience while helping area veterans."

Forty students were trained in September, all of whom will work with practicing attorneys as well as paralegals. Two attorneys and two law students are scheduled for each clinic and will work as partners, with the practicing attorney taking the lead during client interviews.

Some of the issues facing veterans include foreclosure, housing, divorce, child custody matters and unemployment benefits. The center provides basic legal information and guidance for civil, not criminal, cases.

"The need for civil legal services among veterans is substantial, partly due to the numbers of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Zimmerman says. "Students will take what they've learned in class and apply it to real life with real people."

Some of the students bring more than legal expertise to the center. Leigh Neville-Neil, a third-year law student, is an Army veteran who served in Iraq for 18 months.

"It definitely helps being a fellow veteran," says Neville-Neil, who has participated in a pilot clinic. "I can understand what they're saying and many of the issues they face."

For her, it's an opportunity to get real world experience while helping those who have also served.

"A lot of people don't know what services are available," Neville-Neil says. "This helps make them aware of programs that might help them get their lives back on track."

Dan Rock, a second-year law student, is a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and one of the student volunteers for the clinic. Rock says his background helps him relate to the veterans coming to the center but also inspires him to raise awareness among students about the issues veterans face.

"Hopefully we will be able to provide veterans with information or contacts that can help them with whatever legal issue they have," Rock says. "There are many services available to assist our veterans with their problems, but it is often complicated and confusing to determine what those services are and how to use them."

The free legal center is funded by a $5,000 Pro Bono Initiative grant from the State Bar Legal Assistance Committee. The project is administered by the UW Law School's Pro Bono Program and is a collaborative effort with support from the Dane County Veterans Service Office, the Dane County Bar Association, Porchlight, Inc. and representatives from the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison. Habush Habush & Rottier SC recently contributed an additional $5,000 to fund the center.

"The center provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn about veterans, gain experience handling legal problems and discover how to make a real difference in our community," Zimmerman says.