The volunteer attorneys and students of William & Mary Law School's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic were honored with the 2013 Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Pro Bono Award by the Virginia State Bar (VSB) during an April 15 ceremony held at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. The VSB's Special Committee on Access to Legal Services confers the award each year on "those attorneys and attorney groups that have made outstanding pro bono contributions."
In a press release announcing the honorees, VSB President W. David Harless noted that the committee "chose the lawyers associated with the clinic not only for their foresight and professionalism in helping to provide legal services to veterans with service connected disabilities but also for their role in training and supervising law students."
Associate Clinical Professor of Law Patricia E. Roberts, who directs the Law School's Clinical Programs, said the veterans' advocates were deeply honored to receive the award. The clinic's motto, "Serving Those Who Sacrificed," reflected the philosophy, she said, that it is a privilege to assist veterans. Students, she added, seem to thrive on the work. "The professional growth and commitment to service we see in our students who work in this clinic is inspiring."
Since the clinic accepted its first clients in fall 2008, more than 90 law students, working under the supervision of Managing Attorney Stacey-Rae Simcox and Co-Managing Attorney Mark Matthews, have assisted hundreds of veterans with claims for disability benefits. Volunteer attorneys mentor law students, conduct outreach at homeless shelters, and counsel veterans on a variety of legal matters. The clinic works in tandem with Dr. Leticia Flores and students at Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Psychological Services and Development, who provide counseling, assessment, and referrals to veterans. Inspired by the clinic's success, William & Mary created Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education (HMVHE), a consortium of more than a dozen universities in Virginia committed to the cause.
Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas said he was delighted that the volunteer lawyers who assist the Veterans Benefits Clinic were honored by the Virginia State Bar. "The work of the clinic on behalf of our nation's veterans is made possible by the thousands of hours donated by attorney volunteers. We are proud to partner with such an impressive group of lawyers committed to seeing our nation fulfill its promise to those who served."
The clinic's work is made possible, in part, by the support of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and gifts from Mr. Puller's law school classmates. Law firms from across Virginia have likewise engaged in fundraising efforts coordinated by the Virginia Bar Association. Equal Justice Works also recently funded a fellowship to support the work of HMVHE Director John Paul Cimino.
Lewis B. Puller, Jr. (1945-94) received an undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary in 1967 and a J.D. from William & Mary Law School in 1974. He was an attorney, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
John M. Levy, William & Mary Chancellor Professor of Law, Emeritus, was honored with the pro bono award in 1998.