Symposium on veteran access to justice hits home at law school

School of Law Dean Robert Wilcox meets with American Bar Association President Linda Klein, at the Veteran Access to Justice Symposium, held on Dec. 8, 2016.

When veterans return home from putting their lives on the line for this country, they’re often met with hardships out of their control. But a group of advocates want to make sure those veterans are given a fair chance. On Dec. 8, the hosted a symposium that brought experts from around the country into one room, in hopes of advancing an agenda created to fight for those who fight for our freedom.

“There are many dedicated people trying to improve veteran access to justice,” says Professor of Law and Director of the NMRS Center on Professionalism Elizabeth Chambliss.

Chambliss organized the symposium at the School of Law, hoping to bring those dedicated people into one conversation.

“The symposium provided opportunities for exchange between veteran’s legal service providers and federal government researchers. Improving services for veterans is an issue that crosses party lines and demands political cooperation,” says Chambliss.

She says experts came from all over with that cooperation in mind, hoping to evoke change.

Keynote Speaker Leigh Bradley serves as General Counsel of the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Leigh Bradley, General Counsel of the Department of Veteran Affairs gave the keynote address, expressing her goals from not just a political perspective, but also a personal one. Bradley is the daughter and wife of veterans, as well as a mother to an active duty soldier, and a veteran herself. She served in the same position under the Clinton administration, and was appointed again under former President Barack Obama.

“My epiphany about advocacy for veterans came in my first day after I was confirmed by the Senate,” says Bradley. “One person has the power to make a difference for veterans.”

President of the American Bar Association Linda Klein was another expert gathered at the symposium.

“When we study veterans, we find that five or their top 10 needs are legal needs,” says Klein, who gave open remarks at the symposium.

Klein’s areas of focus include the Commission on Veterans Legal Services, an initiative she created to ensure that veterans have access to justice and receive the legal support they, their families, and their caregivers deserve. Since becoming president, Klein has pushed veteran-mined agendas, in hopes of setting the ABA up to lead this holistic and sustainable effort.

But for veterans who struggle with homelessness, hunger and unemployment, finding a lawyer is often not a reasonable priority, but a significant need. To supplement this need, Bradley and her team created an opportunity for veterans to get legal help, and to get it for free. Among all of the legal tape that comes with federally funded programs, Bradley said she knew she had to find a way to create free legal aid facilities inside VA hospitals. And four years later, Bradley says the number of VA legal clinics has increased by 300 percent.

And that number continues to grow.  Inspired to act after learning how great the need is, Dean Rob Wilcox came away from the symposium with the idea of establishing a veteran’s legal services center at the School of Law. Staffed by law students working under the supervision of South Carolina lawyers who are also veterans, the proposed clinic would offer a wide range of legal services to any indigent veteran unable to afford the services of a private lawyer.

“Our school is located in a military minded state,” says Dean Wilcox. “With Fort Jackson just around the corner, it only makes sense that we as an institution, do our part to try and make a difference for veterans right here at home.”

“It’s really our duty, our sacred obligation to make sure we’ve done all we can for them,” says Bradley.