Students in the Clinic work to protect the rights of veterans and their families and persons with disabilities. Students can select among three project areas: (1) Veterans Justice Project – through which students represent veterans in administrative and court appeals to challenge wrongful denials of federal and state veterans benefits, in administrative and court appeals to seek remedies for those who unjustly received a less-than-honorable military discharge, and in systemic reform initiatives; (2) Estate Planning Project – through which students represent veterans and their families in estate and financial planning matters such as wills, trusts, advanced directives, guardianships, and conservatorships; and (3) Safety Net Project – through which students represent clients, including veterans, in administrative and court appeals to challenge wrongful denials of Social Security disability, SNAP/Food Stamps, and other safety net program benefits. The Clinic’s practice includes, but is not limited to, administrative, disability, mental health, military, probate, and constitutional law. Students gain in-depth experience with: client and witness interviewing; working with medical evidence and experts; drafting pleadings, motions, and briefs; drafting legal instruments; examining and cross-examining witnesses at hearings; judicial review of agency decisions; presenting oral argument, engaging in negotiation; and solving ethical dilemmas. Overall, the Clinic focuses its advocacy efforts on using the law to promote financial stability, access to healthcare, and dignity for veterans and their families and persons with disabilities.
Veterans Justice Project: In the Veterans Justice Project, students advocate for clients in a number of contexts to ensure that the legal rights of veterans are vindicated and that veterans have access to the care and support earned by their military service. Many of the clients represented by the Project come from underserved veteran communities, including veterans with mental health needs, women veterans, and LGBTQ veterans. Among other things, students represent veterans in administrative and court appeals to challenge denials of federal and state veterans benefits. Students regularly practice before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which has a student practice rule that permits students to participate fully in appeals. Students also represent veterans in petitions and appeals seeking an upgrade of military discharge status or correction of military records, which cases can provide students an opportunity to represent a veteran at an armed forces review board hearing and/or in federal court. Students may also have opportunities to work on systemic reform initiatives, including policy advocacy, multi-plaintiff litigation, and test cases. Students often work closely with experts, including psychologists and psychiatrists. More information, including recent case examples and student case victories, can be found here.
Estate Planning Project: The Estate Planning Project presents a unique opportunity for students to learn and practice estate planning law while serving the needs of the veterans’ community. Students represent clients in matters involving estate planning and probate, advanced directives, guardianship, and conservatorship. In some instances, students advise and draft specialized trust instruments to enable clients to maintain eligibility for critical safety net programs or other specialized needs. The goal of the Project is to help clients maximize financial stability and control over lifetime decision making, including healthcare decision making, and effectively plan for future needs. All of the clients of the Project are veterans or the survivors of veterans. Many of the clients have injuries and disabilities connected to their military service and/or are suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses, making estate planning an especially critical legal resource.
Safety Net Project: The Safety Net Project plays a vital community role, one that will only increase in urgency as critical subsistence programs are threatened. All of the low-income clients we represent have serious health issues. Some clients are older and in failing physical health, others are younger and have mental health or intellectual disorders. Many are veterans. In representing clients challenging denials of safety net program benefits such as SNAP and Social Security, student attorneys engage in: client and witness interviewing, legal research and writing, client counseling, negotiation, motion practice, evidentiary hearings involving opening statements, witness examination, and closing arguments, and appellate oral argument. Enrolled students have frequent opportunities to interact with medical providers and medical experts and to work on cases at the intersection of disability rights, disability access, mental health and the law.
Specific student work in the Clinic can include, but is not limited to:
- Factual and legal research
- Client interviewing and counseling
- Drafting estate documents
- Representing clients in administrative hearings
- Representing clients in state and federal court
- Appellate advocacy, including oral argument
- Developing and implementing systemic reform strategies
This clinic is part of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC), a general practice community law office in Jamaica Plain. LSC’s diverse clinics provide clinical instruction to second- and third-year law students and serve as a laboratory for the innovative delivery of legal services. Students are taught and mentored under the supervision and guidance of clinical instructors and fellows in one of LSC’s litigation clinical practices. For more information about the LSC, please visit here.
You can read evaluations from past clinical students in the Helios Org Search using this link.
How to Register
How to Register
The clinic is offered in the Fall and Spring semesters. You can learn about the required clinical course component, clinical credits and the clinical registration process by reading the course catalog description and exploring the links in this section.
In the News
In the News
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Learning to ServeContinue Reading about Learning to Serve
I distinctly recall Betsy Gwin, a clinical instructor in the Veterans Legal Clinic, telling us on our first day: “You’ll never forget your first client.” I was admittedly nervous to meet mine. As a law student planning to enter the JAG Corps post-graduation with no prior military experience, I hoped that working in the Clinic would help me better understand and address the legal issues faced by service-members, veterans, and their families.
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Take Care of Soldiers, and Things Fall Into PlaceContinue Reading about Take Care of Soldiers, and Things Fall Into Place
My involvement with the Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC) has been, by far, my most rewarding experience at Harvard Law School. Through the VLC, I supported diverse cases, developed a broad range of legal skills, found my passion for advocating for others as a litigator, and made some of my closest friends at Harvard.
Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic
WilmerHale Legal Services Center
122 Boylston Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
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