The now annual Legal Services Center (LSC) People’s Law School of community legal education workshops facilitated by LSC staff and clinical law students has proven to be hugely popular, attended by almost 200 people over the past 2 years. And so popular that Will Hatley, Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program Coordinator at the Bedford Veterans Administration (VA) proposed that LSC take the program on the road, bringing workshops specifically tailored to the needs of the veterans served through the CWT program directly to them on-site at the Bedford VA. Julie McCormack, senior clinical instructor and director of the Disability Litigation Clinic at LSC, enthusiastically accepted the challenge and recruited not only LSC instructors and clinical students in presenting workshops, but also reached out to recruit presenters in areas not served by LSC. She and her LSC colleagues were ultimately joined by instructors and law students from the Tenant Advocacy Project and Prisoner Legal Assistance Project student practice organizations and the Judicial Process in Community Courts Clinic.
Over the course of several weeks and 5 workshops, veterans and their case managers at the Bedford VA were advised of their legal rights and the process by which these rights could be exercised in several key areas of direct impact. On October 29th, Toby Merrill and her student Alison Sher ‘15 from the LSC’s Project on Predatory Student Lending presented first on credit issues including bankruptcy and predatory student loans, many of which are specifically marketed to veterans. Toby and Ali discussed the means by which these unfair loans can be challenged, discharged or otherwise eliminated.
On November 5th, Julie McCormack presented on Social Security disability programs, other programs for low-income and/or disabled veterans and their families, and the financial implications in these programs of wages and other forms of income and how to respond. Dana Montalto of LSC’s Veteran’s Legal Clinic presented on Discharge Upgrades, the benefits of upgrading and the process by which an upgrade can be requested. Julie also met with veterans privately, responding to individual questions and providing advice and follow-up in their individual cases.
On November 12th, Nnena Odim and Stephanie Davidson of LSC’s Family Law Clinic, their clinical students Isabel Klosterman ’16 and Mara Ludmer ’15, and Tamara Kolz Griffin of the Estate Planning Project of LSC’s Veteran’s Legal Clinic, and her student, Hillary Preston ’15, presented on family law and probate court issues, including divorce, child custody and child support, separations, restraining orders, conservatorships, guardianships and probating estates. Tamara Kolz Griffin and her clinical students, Amanda Klopp ’16 and Carolyn Ruiz ’16, from the Estate Planning Project of the Veteran’s Legal Clinic followed up on November 13th with a workshop specifically dealing with wills, trusts and other estate planning tools helpful to veterans and their families, and met one-on-one with several prospective clients on their individual cases.
Finally, on November 19th, the Hon. John Cratsley (ret.) of HLS’s Judicial Process in Community Courts Clinic and David Hanyok ’15 (with HLS’s Prison Legal Assistance Project) presented on criminal record sealing and other issues. Both handled a variety of questions from veterans as well as program staff and met one-on-one with veterans interested in discussing their record sealing options, providing forms for obtaining a CORI, for fee waivers, and for applying to seal a record. They also answered numerous questions which sometimes raised other criminal justice issues of concern to veterans. Their session was followed by Marcia Peters of HLS’s Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP) and Zoe Brennan-Krohn ‘15 (of both TAP and LSC’s Disability Litigation Clinic) who presented on the process to appeal public housing denials based solely on having a criminal record. They took on similar challenging questions.
Each of the workshops were attended by 30 to 50 veterans and case managers. The attendees participated eagerly with questions and personal observations, sharing knowledge and experiences. Will Hatley generously recognized each of the presenters with personal certificates of appreciation. He and many of the attendees urged that the workshops be repeated and even expanded in the spring, pointing to the obvious need for this kind of community legal education among folks facing complex legal, social and personal challenges as they transition from military service to civilian life. And although taking the time from clinical teaching and providing services to current clients and students presents resource and other constraints, LSC and their partners are more than willing to try to answer the call.