By Gwyneth K. Shaw
Military service helped Tyler Baylis ’22 see the world differently, a shift that ultimately led him to Berkeley Law.
When Baylis began law school, he wanted to work with veterans, who can struggle making the transition to civilian life. But there was nothing for him to join as a 1L. Baylis decided to change that, and founded Legal Obstacles Veterans Encounter (LOVE) with fellow students — and veterans — Matt Sardo ’23 and Blaine Manire ’23.
LOVE is one of 40 Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects, or SLPS, running this year through Berkeley Law’s Pro Bono Program. The project is supervised by lecturers Olivia Cole and Rose Carmen Goldberg, who also co-teach the school’s Veterans Law Seminar and Practicum.
Moving from the service “can be a difficult task that, for some former service members, involves bouts of depression and anxiety from seemingly ordinary social situations,” says Baylis, a former Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy for five years, deploying twice. He hails from the Bay Area, which has America’s largest population of homeless veterans.
“The rigors of law school can make this transition even more difficult,” he says. “I founded LOVE to provide aid to the Bay Area veterans community, but also with the goal of giving Berkeley Law veterans an opportunity to participate in a project that feels familiar.”
Filling a big need
The group’s inaugural task, working with the Bay Area-based nonprofit Swords to Plowshares, is to create a guide to help elderly veterans navigate their benefits. The Bay Area is home to an older population of veterans, Goldberg says, so the first LOVE project will have an immediate impact.
“Veterans law is a burgeoning area with a lot of need but not a lot of advocates relative to other areas of social justice practice. In Berkeley and the rest of the East Bay, as well as other cities across the country, veterans experiencing homelessness, mental health conditions, and criminal justice involvement often have nowhere to turn for the specialized and culturally competent assistance they need,” Cole says. “The practicum helps fill this justice gap by training a small army of budding lawyers on how to serve veterans. However, there is a much greater demand for veterans advocacy than VLP students alone can undertake.
“The LOVE SLP provides separate, additional opportunities for Berkeley Law students to work on issues affecting veterans, enabling the school to have a broader positive impact on the veteran community.”
Long term, the LOVE founders hope to expand the work into client-facing projects that allow students to interact more directly with veterans.
“We received overwhelming interest from veteran and non-veteran applicants this semester and we are humbled by the talented team we’ve built in a short period of time,” says Sardo, who has served for 14 years in the U.S. Army, including as part of the elite Green Berets. At UC Berkeley, he teaches ROTC cadets in small unit tactics and ethics.
“The University of California afforded me a unique opportunity to mentor those entering Army service and advocate on behalf of those who sacrificed already,” he says. “Berkeley Law, and the American values it represents, has proven the ideal institution of higher learning at this point in my career.”
The founding trio’s combined military service is long enough that Manire jokes the group must be the most non-student “student-led” group on campus. But it also gives them a big advantage.
“Our shared military service emphasizes our ability to lead, develop, and achieve. These qualities instantly come out when we are all working together, which makes the process that much easier,” Manire says. “We tackle the problem in front of us and move on to the next one — three passionate people working towards a shared goal is a strong force.”
There are huge tasks ahead, the students say, including figuring out how to acquire and allocate resources, finding the right partners, and even just understanding what’s achievable. They’re collaborating closely with Goldberg and Cole, who began co-teaching the practicum in the fall of 2020, with Goldberg leading the seminar portion of the course and Cole overseeing the hands-on legal work.
“Their passion is contagious,” Sardo says. “Veterans advocacy, like many areas of the law, presents opportunities to select the best approach to a specific legal challenge. Our supervising attorneys bring an incredible breadth of experience. They present a variety of legal options to seek relief for clients which are great for us to consider as new advocates.”
“Matt, Tyler, and I all want the project to charge ahead at full steam, but sometimes you have to walk or even crawl,” adds Manire, who served in the Army and was deployed to Iraq when he applied to Berkeley Law. “Having experienced attorneys there as part of our development is crucial to ensure that we set the correct pace for the project.”
Goldberg (a deputy attorney general in the Office of the California Attorney General’s Public Rights Division) and Cole (deputy legal director at Swords to Plowshares) are equally impressed by LOVE’s founders.
“They deserve a huge shoutout for taking the initiative to create this SLP from scratch during such a tumultuous moment in time,” Goldberg says. “There is significant need for information and advocacy in the veteran community. Veterans, especially those who are homeless, low-income, or experiencing a mental health condition, have been particularly hard hit by the events of the past two years. The pandemic and recent events in Afghanistan have been a double storm for the veteran community.
“Despite the challenges of navigating law school during a pandemic, the LOVE SLP members made time to lead and help others. This is the height of service, and we’re honored and humbled to be a part of it.”
LOVE is part of what Golberg and Cole called “a true renaissance for veterans law offerings at Berkeley Law,” combined with the practicum and two other critical projects completed last year by students in two other SLPS, the Survivor Advocacy Project and the Disability Rights Project.
“The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg envisioned the military as a key battleground for social justice,” Goldberg says. The seminar and practicum focus on a number of pressing issues, including sexual assault, racism, and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Goldberg and Cole are inspired by the LOVE students’ interest in these cross-cutting issues and looking forward to what comes next.
“We’re excited to work with the LOVE SLP to ensure that this is only the beginning and this much-needed work continues to grow at the law school,” Goldberg says.
Sardo says the work is empowering, as well as a taste of the professional satisfaction of successfully representing a client that he’s looking forward to after law school. For him, Baylis, and Manire, the project adds a new element to their military service.
“I owe everything I have to the Army, so being able to give back to my fellow veterans is the driving reason behind why I want to help launch this project,” Manire says. “If we are able to help one veteran turn their life around, then all this work will be worth it.”