Wednesday, November 11, 2015
This semester in Pepperdine's clinical education program, we launched the Veterans Law Practicum, a pilot program with the Ventura County Public Defender. In the practicum, students apply for structured placements with the PD to work in Veterans Treatment Court. The Vet Court is part of the Collaborative Justice Court Program by the Ventura County Superior Court.
Through the Vet Court, veterans or former members of the military service, regardless of their discharge status, can access alternative sentencing and diversionary programs when they can establish a nexus between their military service and disability with the crimes for which they are charged. The PD represents these clients to advocate for restorative and therapeutic services, like drug counseling, housing, job training, mental health services and increased public benefits, instead of jail time. The students work with clients at every phase of the cases, from identifying potential candidates in local jails, to advice and counsel, to round-table collaborative negotiations with prosecutors, probate, the VA, the Vet Center, addiction and mental health counselors. Students move to arraignment, motion practice, pleas and sentencing, and ultimately their clients' graduation from the program. The Ventura County Public Defender has one of the smartest field placement programs in the country to develop young lawyers, and our students have thrived there. California's state-wide, interagency task force for veterans is evaluating this practicum as a model for courts throughout California for over two million vets in the state.
On the strength of the program, we are launching a second course, the Veterans Law Practicum (Los Angeles), with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. In the LA practicum, students will apply for field placements in NLSLA’s Veterans Empowerment Initiative. The Initiative provides coordinated legal services in multidisciplinary collaborations, including expungements and discharge upgrades. By working with veterans on these matters, lawyers may remove obstacles from veterans in cycles of homelessness and poverty and can unlock critical VA benefits to improve physical and mental health, housing and job prospects.
In a season of tight law school budgets and increasing demand for experiential learning, these collaborations are invaluable to the law school. They help us punch above our weight by providing excellent experiences for students and critically useful legal services to vulnerable clients.
To these clients we owe our greatest public trust for sending them into harm’s way for the sake of our nation. We are proud and honored to work beside these heroic lawyers representing our heroic veterans.