Monday, October 4, 2021

Veterans Law Clinic Group Hosts Second Annual National Boot Camp - by Jennifer Morrell (Widener University Delaware Law School)

In September, over 100 law student interns, faculty, and advocates from all over the country gathered to attend the second annual boot camp for clinics serving veterans, hosted by the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium (NLSVCC).  

The Honorable Michael P. Allen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) opened the live program with his remarks.  Judge Allen provided boot camp participants with a broad overview of the Department of Veterans Affairs and then offered insight into what distinguishes the CAVC from other appellate courts.  One aspect Judge Allen noted is the fact that the CAVC has the authority to manage class action cases.  "There is no other appellate court in the country that can actually certify a class at the appellate level, and that has been so dramatically challenging," Judge Allen stated.  Judge Allen also noted that the Court has nationwide jurisdiction, a rarity among appellate courts.   

During his remarks, Judge Allen touched on some of the skills incoming interns will develop during their careers, including writing and talking to clients about difficult matters.  The most important skill, Judge Allen posited, is listening.  "Lawyers do not do enough listening," Judge Allen stated.  "They think the most important thing is to ask the question. But a question to which you do not listen to the answer is actually a meaningless exercise."

Judge Allen closed with a personal and inspiring story about the impact law students can have in the world, whether they wind up becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice or a small-town lawyer working out of a barn.  If you want to hear more of this story and the entirety of the Judge's remarks, head to NLSVCC's YouTube channel.

The boot camp was held virtually again, with five live sessions and five asynchronous sessions.  The programming saw some changes based on feedback following the inaugural event in August 2020.  

First, the boot camp was spread out over the course of two days instead of one. The event also was held further into the fall semester, to allow students to get their bearings so that the information presented could be considered with context.  The boot camp's live programming incorporated increased participant interaction.  In her session on ethics, Professor Margaret Costello from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law acted out an attorney-client scenario along with one of her students.  Professor Costello then split attendees up into breakout rooms for discussion about the various ethical issues posed by the skit.   In a second interactive session, a panel of former and current interns helmed themed breakout rooms, with attendees free to move between the rooms throughout the session. One breakout room on careers in government veterans work featured an attorney from the VA's OGC CAVC litigation group as well as Jillian Berner, a senior staff attorney at the veterans clinic at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law who clerked for a  CAVC judge earlier in her career.   A breakout room on nonprofit veterans work featured Samantha Kubek, Clinical Professor and Director of the veterans clinic at Hofstra Law, who spent five years working as a veterans law attorney at New York Legal Assistance Group.  

Other live sessions included Reviewing Veterans’ Military and Medical Records & Creating Chronologies; Military Sexual Trauma & Representing Survivors; and Shaping the Narrative for Veterans: Developing the Theory of the Case in the Papers & Beyond.  Each session closed with a brief Q&A segment in which attendees were able to pose questions to the presenters.  

A selection of the live sessions are available on the NLSVCC's YouTube channel. The asynchronous sessions from this year and last year are available to NLSVCC members on the Consortium's website.  If you are interested in supporting the NLSVCC by becoming a member and gaining access to these and other resources, please visit the website.

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