Students who enroll in the Veterans Law Practicum gain first-hand experience working with the large, underserved population of U.S. veterans. Students staff the Practicum’s free legal clinic held at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (and, depending on enrollment, at other locations). At each clinic, students interview several prospective clients. Practicum students help to identify each client’s particular needs. Many of these needs are non-legal, or concern areas of the law that are outside of the scope of the Practicum. For these needs the students, in consultation with the Practicum supervising attorney, make appropriate referrals. For legal issues within the scope of the Practicum, students may need to perform background legal research to determine whether the Practicum can provide advice or offer representation. This decision is made jointly by the students and supervising attorney. Students are responsible for following up with the clients they have met.
Students also work on at least two ongoing projects each semester. Many of these projects involve cases that have come from the legal clinic or that have been referred from other sources. Typically, these are appeals following denials of applications for VA disability and other benefits to which the client was entitled. Students develop their legal research and writing skills through the drafting of Notices of Disagreement, Appeals, Complaints, and Motions for Summary Judgment. Students serve as the primary points-of-contact with the clients. Students may also work with clients to prepare for in-person or remote hearings.
Practicum students have also worked on variety of projects, including:
- Legislation to amend statutes governing certain VA benefits and programs
- Working with congressional staff, Practicum students have performed research and assisted in the drafting legislative proposals
- Upgrading discharge status for veterans discharged under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell program
- Assisting veterans with recent criminal convictions through the Oakland Veterans Court program
Students may also propose new projects, which would be evaluated by the instructor.