News

Veterans Legal Clinic to Create Discharge Upgrade Practice Manual with Connecticut Veterans Legal Center

The Veterans Legal Clinic is partnering with Connecticut Veterans Legal Center to significantly advance the practice of discharge upgrade law by developing a comprehensive Discharge Upgrade Practice Manual for veteran advocates and an online, searchable database of published discharge upgrade decisions. This national initiative is funded by the Bob Woodruff Foundation. To learn more about the Manual, click here to read Connecticut Veterans Legal Center’s press release.

Margaret Kuzma of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center and Betsy Gwin, Dana Montalto, and Dan Nagin of the Veterans Legal Clinic

Margaret Kuzma of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center and Betsy Gwin, Dana Montalto, and Dan Nagin of the Veterans Legal Clinic

 

 

Legal Services Center to host 40th Anniversary Event on April 5, 2019

On April 5, 2019, the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School will celebrate its 40th anniversary with its first-ever reunion for alumni, faculty, students and friends. Learn more and register at lscharvard40th.org.

This will be a day to look ahead as well as to celebrate our past. We will consider:

  • How the law can be used to create economic justice.
  • How law students can be more effectively trained to meet legal needs.
  • How innovative partnerships with community organizations, medical providers, the private bar and other groups can enable us to work together to improve the lives of our communities’ most vulnerable residents.

April 5 will be a day of exciting events recognizing LSC’s 40 years of training thousands of law students and providing high quality, pro bono civil legal services to Greater Boston’s most vulnerable residents. The day’s event will also celebrate the role WilmerHale played in establishing our current location in Jamaica Plain 25 years ago.

Our keynote will be at approximately 5 pm in the Ames Courtroom on the Harvard Law School campus. Our soon-to-be announced speaker will provide a powerful capstone to the day’s events, which will include awards for emerging public interest leaders and community partners and the premiere of a short documentary about LSC’s unique history and mission. Earlier in the day, interactive discussion roundtables will take place at LSC in Jamaica Plain. These discussions will bring together trailblazing LSC alumni and colleagues in the fields of clinical education, anti-poverty work, and public service to explore the principles and strategies that should guide our efforts as legal educators and community advocates.

We hope you will join us. Space is limited for all of these events, so I encourage you to sign up at lscharvard40th.org as soon as possible for what promises to be a terrific opportunity to engage around some of the most important issues facing the pro bono legal services community and legal education.

We look forward to seeing you all on April 5.

No Crime to be Poor; LSC Alum Blake Strode to Lead St. Louis Civil Rights Law Firm

This article was originally published by Harvard Law Today on June 26, 2018.

By Elaine McCardel

There is no shortage of serious legal issues facing poor people in Greater St. Louis, especially people of color, says Blake Strode ’15, who was born and raised in the area. Just three years out of HLS, Strode is back home fighting the criminalization of poverty as executive director of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm in St. Louis that has filed landmark cases that have already improved the lives of tens of thousands of low-income people.

Strode, who majored in international economics and Spanish at the University of Arkansas and toured the world for three years as a tennis professional before law school, always planned to go into public interest law. At HLS, he represented prisoners in disciplinary and parole hearings through the Prison Legal Assistance Project, helped fight evictions and foreclosures in Boston through Project No One Leaves, and was a student in the Housing Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center.

Not long after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Strode read a white paper on the over-policing of people of color in north St. Louis County that ArchCity Defenders had just published. The paper, which presaged a later Department of Justice report, “was the first time I’d seen that level of analysis of that problem in St. Louis,” he says. He reached out to the organization’s executive director and co-founder, Thomas Harvey, and soon found himself back in his hometown with a Skadden Fellowship to do housing-related work.

ArchCity had recently filed several cases challenging the constitutionality of modern-day debtors’ prisons—the jailing of poor people because they are unable to pay court fines and fees—and Strode changed his focus to helping build the organization’s civil rights litigation unit through impact litigation targeting this practice as well as police misconduct and inhumane jail conditions. In his short time there, he and his colleagues have filed more than 30 civil rights lawsuits in federal court, partnering on some with Civil Rights Corps in Washington, D.C., founded by Alec Karakatsanis ’08. Strode played a significant role in obtaining a landmark judgment against the city of Jennings for imprisoning people unable to pay municipal fines: $4.75 million for a class of about 2,000 people. Settled in 2016, the case resulted in sweeping policy changes that serve as a model for legal reforms in other courts.

In January 2018, at the age of 30, Strode was named ArchCity’s new executive director when Harvey decided to leave.

“My goal is the same as our organizational goal: to combat the criminalization of poverty and state violence against poor people and people of color,” he says.

“Our clients are poor and overwhelmingly people of color, which in St. Louis means overwhelmingly black. We are seeking systemic change with and for them, which is only possible through a concerted effort of both legal and nonlegal advocacy. We’re calling for nothing less than that.”

The ways our clients engage in fighting back inspire us.

ArchCity, which relies heavily on private donations, was primarily a volunteer organization until a few years ago; it now has a full-time staff of 20, half of whom are lawyers, Strode says. Yet there is so much need in the community that growth is a top priority, he adds. That means building capacity in order to represent more clients and expanding to other parts of the state. ArchCity is a holistic provider, so growth also means expanding advocacy in housing, access to education, and consumer matters.

And while ArchCity’s victories are heartening, “even those, we have to work very hard to hold on to, and those gains aren’t enough,” Strode says. The work can be especially difficult in a politically conservative area like Missouri, “where millions of people face the greatest systemic challenges on a day-to-day basis because those challenges are institutional and deep-seated.” However, he adds, “The ways our clients engage in fighting back are really inspiring and inspire us to remain committed.”

LSC Engages in Legal Outreach to Homeless Veterans at Stand Down 2018

LSC’s Betsy Gwin, Dana Montalto, Dan Nagin, Julia Schutt, Keith Fogg, Steve Kerns, and Evan Seamone volunteering at Greater Boston’s Stand Down 2018

A team of volunteer students and staff from LSC partnered with Veterans Legal Services to provide legal advice to over 120 veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness at Greater Boston Veterans Stand Down 2018. The event, which was held on Friday, September 7, at City Hall Plaza, brings together over 100 community providers in order to provide veterans with access to medical, housing, employment, legal, and other services.

Alongside Veterans Legal Services and pro bono attorneys, LSC staff volunteered in the legal assistance tent to advise veterans on areas of law such as VA benefits, Chapter 115 state veterans’ benefits, other public benefits, tax debt issues, and discharge upgrades. In addition to offering legal advice, LSC staff provided referrals to other service providers and in a few cases has followed up to explore potential legal representation.

Clinic Attorney Evan Seamone, whose work is supported through a generous grant from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in order to provide legal assistance to underserved veterans, reflected on the impact of Stand Down as an outreach event:

In a noteworthy trend this year, a number of veterans at the legal tent shared that they had learned valuable information at the Stand Down after years of failed attempts.  An answer awaited them, but finding it had been a major hurdle.  This year’s Stand Down underscored the incomparable value of concentrating essential services and resources in a single and accessible place.

The event was coordinated by the New England Center and Home for Veterans.  More photos from the event are online here.

Veterans Legal Services, pro bono attorneys, and LSC students and staff at Stand Down 2018

LSC Hiring a Veterans Intake & Pro Bono Coordinator (part-time)

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School (LSC) seeks to hire a part-time Veterans Intake & Pro Bono Coordinator to work in the Veterans Legal Clinic.  The Clinic—through which Harvard Law students receive hands-on lawyering opportunities—provides direct legal representation to low-income disabled veterans and their families. The Clinic maintains a diverse docket of cases, including appeals involving federal and state veterans benefits, discharge upgrade and correction of military records cases, and estate planning matters.  The Clinic practices before agencies, in state and federal court, and before Department of Defense tribunals.  Many of the Clinic’s cases raise cutting-edge issues involving the rights of disabled veterans.  The Veterans Intake & Pro Bono Coordinator will work closely with clients and Clinic attorneys and will have various responsibilities, including conducting initial client intake phone calls and meetings; screening cases for eligibility; gathering and organizing client documents; maintaining case files; liaising with pro bono attorneys, referral organizations, and other third parties; helping to manage the Clinic’s docket; maintaining the Clinic’s case management system; contributing to community outreach and engagement efforts; and providing administrative support in other respects to the Clinic’s mission. The position represents a unique opportunity to join Harvard Law School’s clinical program, to work in a dynamic public interest and clinical teaching law office, to serve the veterans community, and to develop administrative and advocacy skills. Salary is commensurate with experience.

Minimum Requirements: At least one year relevant experience and strong commitment to serving the veterans community.

Additional Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree preferred, but not required
  • Strong preference for candidates who are veterans or otherwise have a personal connection to the military/veterans community
  • Demonstrated interest in working with the veterans community
  • Commitment to serving low-income communities and persons with disabilities
  • Excellent written, verbal, organizational and interpersonal skills; superior managerial skills; strong attention to detail; knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite and legal case management systems
  • Ability to thrive in a high-volume public interest litigation practice
  • Flexibility and the ability to handle multiple priorities
  • Ability to work well independently and as part of a team

To Apply:  Applications must be submitted via Harvard’s Human Resources website.  The posting and online application portal can be found here (Position ID# 46710BR).

2018 August — Veterans Legal Clinic — Harvard Law School — Intake and Pro Bono Coordinator Position

Estate Planning Project Hiring a Clinical Instructor

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School has an immediate opening for a Clinical Instructor. The position, which is available either as a full-time position or a part-time position, is within the Estate Planning Project of the Veterans Legal Clinic. The Estate Planning Project—through which Harvard Law students also receive hands-on training in lawyering skills—provides free legal representation to low-income disabled veterans on matters such as wills, powers of attorneys, healthcare proxies, living wills, trusts, special needs trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, and probate of estates. The goal of the Project’s representation is to help each veteran attain the maximum degree of control over financial, health, and family decision making. Many of the Project’s clients have multiple service-connected disabilities and/or face chronic or terminal illnesses.

The Clinical Instructor will oversee the Project’s docket, maintain community and pro bono partnerships, represent clients, and train and supervise law students who enroll in the Veterans Legal Clinic and who seek to develop skills in estate planning practice. The position represents a unique opportunity to work in a dynamic public interest law office within Harvard Law School’s clinical program.

Applications must be submitted via Harvard’s Human Resources website. The full posting and online application portal can be found here (Position ID# 46658BR).

 

Department of Education’s Proposed New Borrower Defense Rule Enables Predatory For-Profit Colleges and Harms Students

Yesterday, the Department of Education proposed a new borrower defense rule that strips away borrower rights, encourages the predatory behaviors of bad actors in higher education, and once again, benefits the for-profit college industry instead of students.

This proposed rule is a clear attempt to stop cheated students from asserting their legal rights. It encourages abusive and predatory institutions to continue to rip off students with impunity, while slamming the door on the debt relief that Congress has instructed the Department to provide to cheated students.

The Department’s proposal reflects its unfounded belief that the interests of institutions, taxpayers, and borrowers are opposed to one another. In fact, when institutions are not trying to profit off of federal student aid, those groups have shared interests. Instead of punishing students for supposed failures of personal accountability, the Department ought to look in the mirror. The Department alone has the power and ability to prevent predatory actors from cheating students and stealing taxpayer money.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is the leading legal advocate for students cheated by for-profit colleges. In ITT’s bankruptcy in Indianapolis, the Project represents 750,000 former ITT students whose claims the Department has largely ignored. In a California federal court, the Project stopped the Department from using its illegal “partial denial” rule, which limited the relief for Corinthian students with approved borrower defense claims. And in D.C., the Project has challenged the Department’s illegal delay of the 2016 borrower defense regulations.

LSC releases report on LGBTQ Veterans Issues

In collaboration with community partners OUTVETS, and Veterans Legal Services, LSC’s Veterans Legal Clinic recently released a report on how to fully honor the service of LGBTQ veterans, especially those who received less-than-fully honorable discharges from the military. The report summarizes the findings made by participants—including dozens of experts on LGBTQ military and veterans matters from the US and Canada—during a two-day summit at Harvard Law School in April 2018 on the unique issues faced by LGBTQ veterans.

As a result of decades of discrimination against LGBTQ servicemembers, enshrined in military policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and predecessor policies, more than 100,000 servicemembers were discharged prematurely based on their sexual orientation. These discharges not only impose profound stigma on LGBTQ veterans, they also have the potential to erect barriers that prevent LGBTQ veterans from receiving critically needed veterans benefits, healthcare, and supports. Despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to this day thousands of LGBTQ veterans are still denied access to essential veterans services—with dire consequences for their mental and physical health, financial wellbeing, and peace of mind.  The Department of Defense’s procedures for changing a veteran’s discharge status remains totally reactive, requiring individual veterans to submit a detailed application rather than identifying and notifying veterans of applicable changes in standards. Once a veteran does apply, it can take between 12 to 18 months just to receive a response. The majority of LGBTQ veterans eligible—estimated to be as many as 92%—have not applied for a discharge upgrade.

Titled “Do Ask, Do Tell, Do Justice: Pursuing Justice for LGBTQ Military Veterans,” this report details the Summit’s findings about how to begin breaking down the considerable barriers LGBTQ veterans face as they pursue justice and access to essential services.  The report concludes that LGBTQ veterans, while far from a homogenous group, do face common challenges as a result of prior discriminatory policies enforced the U.S. military and their ongoing legacies. Many stakeholders are actively working to meet the needs of LGBTQ veterans, but greater coordination between organizations, institutions, and individuals is needed to ensure that all LGBTQ veterans seeking help or supports have meaningful access. The report recommends that current efforts should not just continue, but should be enhanced and expanded:

Advocates for and allies of the LGBTQ veterans community should not be satisfied with the status quo of well-intentioned but (thus far) unsuccessful attempts at federal legislation to remedy the effects of discriminatory discharge policies, nor with the low rate—just 8%—of eligible veterans who actually seek relief through discharge upgrade processes.

The report’s recommendations include proposals for increasing outreach and media coverage, pursuing new litigation strategies, improving cultural competency, and engaging in policy reform and political action.

Read it here: Do Ask Do Tell Do Justice – Summit Report June 2018

Project on Predatory Student Lending Hiring a Racial Justice Fellow

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is excited to announce a one-year fellowship! The racial justice fellow will develop cutting-edge litigation to combat the discriminatory efforts of current higher education policies, and lead outreach efforts by engaging with existing clients and community partners and forging new partnerships with communities impacted by the predatory for-profit industry.

For more information and to apply to the position, click here.

For more information on for-profit colleges and racial justice, click here.

LSC, OUTVETS, & Veterans Legal Services Co-Host LGBTQ Veterans Summit

A two-day summit at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA on the unique issues faced by LGBTQ veterans brought together dozens of experts on LGBTQ military and veterans matters from the US and Canada. The group of legal, political, and healthcare experts examined both past and present discriminatory policies — including Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — and the proposed U.S. transgender service ban, currently on hold in the courts.

Titled “Do Ask, Do Tell, Do Justice: Pursuing Justice for LGBTQ Military Veterans,” the two-day ideas-in-action summit was co-hosted by the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, OUTVETS, and Veterans Legal Services. Also spearheading the event was John R. Campbell, Former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for the Office of Warrior Care and 2017 Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow.

Held April 19-20, it brought together dozens of experts on LGBTQ military and veterans’ matters. Participants who shared their stories, experiences, and best practices included representatives from OutServe-SLDN, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, American Veterans for Equal Rights, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, Dartmouth Hitchcock, Johns Hopkins, and the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association, as well as co-hosts OUTVETS, the Veterans Legal Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, and Veterans Legal Services.

Canadian Attorneys John McKiggan and R. Douglas Elliott offered their perspectives as co-counsel on the groundbreaking matter of Satalic, et al v. Her Majesty the Queen, a successful national class action brought on behalf of current and former LGBTQ employees of the Canadian Armed Forces, Department of National Defence, and the Government of Canada. The action resulted in a record-breaking $145 million settlement and public apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The summit engaged participants in a multi-disciplinary examination of legal and non-legal remedies to enforce the rights of LGBTQ veterans and to honor and fully recognize their military service and unique sacrifices. The Honorable Halee Weinstein, and Paula M. Neira, JD, MSN, RN, CEN, gave powerful keynote luncheon addresses concerning discriminatory military policies against LGBTQ servicemembers, and the transgender service ban, respectively.

Weinstein, one of the few openly gay judges in the Maryland court system, was named Associate Judge, District Court of Maryland, District 1, Baltimore City, in 2002 and has been Judge-In- Charge of Eastside District Court since 2014. She served as a military intelligence officer in the Army from 1984 to 1986 until she was discharged because of her sexual orientation. Weinstein also created and is the current presiding Judge of the Baltimore City Veterans Treatment Court.  Neira was a surface warfare officer whose service included a tour of duty in mine warfare combat during Operation Desert Storm. After the Navy, she found a path toward nursing and law. She is the first transgender Navy veteran to have her DD-214 updated by order of the Navy to reflect her correct name. Additionally, she is the co-sponsor of the USNS HARVEY MILK. She is currently the Clinical Program Director at the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health.

The summit also dovetailed with Harvard Law School’s (HLS) bicentennial celebration and engaged alumni in the second day’s “hackathon” discussions of potential ways to address past and current discrimination against LGBTQ service members and veterans.

“It is genuinely exciting to witness so many individuals committed to advancing the rights of LGBT veterans. Symposia like the HLS Hackathon give me hope that there are still possibilities for positive change within our society,” said participant Hanna Tripp, who serves as a Military and Veteran Fellow in the Office of Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III.

Results from the summit’s working groups are currently being compiled into a more formal report which will be released in the next few weeks, but overall participants left the event feeling energized and hopeful, echoing Ms. Tripp’s comments.

“OUTVETS is honored to have been part of this amazing summit,” said Bryan Bishop, Commander of OUTVETS, a Boston-based LGBTQ Veterans Organization and the first ever LGBTQ organization to march in the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  “It never ceases to amaze me how, when we put our heads and hearts together, we can develop ideas that help the most vulnerable of our Veterans.  It is so important to remember that it is the one Veteran standing in front of us that is the most important.  This summit represents the beginning of an energized movement that works together to break down walls so no Veteran is left behind.”

Contact:
Anna Richardson, Veterans Legal Services
Anna@veteranslegalservices.org
Julie Rafferty, Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School
jrafferty@law.harvard.edu