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Veterans Law Clinic Director to Participate in Live Teleconference CLE on Veterans Benefits


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Veterans Law Clinic

Widener Law School

4601 Concord Pike

Wilmington, DE 19803

(302) 477-2090


NOTE: information on this site does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.



Veterans Law Clinic

ATTORNEY TRAINING AND ADVOCACY


The Need for Pro Bono Veterans Attorneys


In 2011, the Board of Veterans Appeals issued 48,588 decisions. Of these, nearly 30% resulted in a reversal of an earlier Regional Office denial and nearly 45% resulted in a remand to the RO for additional development. Similarly, in 2010 the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims handled nearly 5,000 cases. Of these, more than 60% resulted in either a reversal or remand. As these figures suggest, the likelihood of success on appeal is high. For unrepresented veterans, however, the appeals process can seem frustratingly complex. As an attorney, you can make a difference by providing pro bono representation to a veteran who needs your help.

Our Pro Bono Volunteer Program


Thank you for your interest in representing a disabled veteran or dependents on a pro bono basis. Below you will find information about our volunteer program and how it works. If you are ready to volunteer or have questions not answered below, contact our Pro Bono Coordinator, Sue Saidel, at (302) 477-2090 or swsaidel@mail.widener.edu.


   What is your Pro Bono Attorney Program?

   What do your volunteer attorneys do?

   How much time will I need to commit?

   Do I need to be accredited by the VA before I volunteer?

   What if I need to stop volunteering?

   How much support do you provide?

   I’m new to veterans law. How do I receive training?

   Can I get CLE for the training you provide?

   What about malpractice insurance?

   How do you choose your clients?

   I don’t live in the Delaware Valley region. Can I still help?


       What is your Pro Bono Attorney Program?


       Through our Pro Bono Attorney Program, attorneys working in private, government, and corporate practice in the Delaware Valley region can volunteer to represent a disabled veteran or qualifying dependent who has a claim pending before the Department of Veterans Affairs. We know your time is valuable and you have many pro bono opportunities from which to choose. Our goal is to provide our volunteer attorneys with a meaningful experience while delivering top-notch legal representation to our clients. Because of our volunteers, we are able to serve many more veterans than we could on our own. No prior experience in veterans law is necessary.


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       What do your volunteer attorneys do?


       Each volunteer attorney works as co-counsel with one of our Staff Attorneys in representing a disabled veteran or dependent who has a pending VA disability claim. Initially, a volunteer attorney is assigned one case. The volunteer attorney then attends an introductory meeting with one of our Staff Attorneys and a client, learns about the client’s case, begins gathering evidence and corresponding as needed with the VA, and on occasion appears on the client’s behalf at Regional Office or Board of Veterans Appeals hearings. We count both transactional attorneys and litigators among our volunteers.


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       How much time will I need to commit?


       Because the VA disability system is a non-adversarial and pro-claimant, it is ideal for pro bono attorneys representing an occasional client. Attorneys should generally count on spending 5-10 hours during the first few months of representation to familiarize themselves with their assigned case file. After that, managing a single case normally requires 1-2 hours per month. The VA disability system moves slowly and, except for hearings, mostly involves gathering evidence from government and private sources and submitting it to the VA on behalf of the client. VA hearings take additional preparation time, of course, but they are infrequent and quite informal.


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       Do I need to be accredited by the VA before I volunteer?


       No. VA rules allow anyone, whether an attorney or non-attorney, to represent one veteran without first being accredited. See 38 C.F.R. §14.630. After this, attorneys must be accredited by the VA to represent any additional veterans. See 38 C.F.R. § 14.629. Although we do not require our volunteers to be accredited before taking their first case, we advise all of our attorneys to apply for accreditation as soon as possible. Fortunately, the process for obtaining VA accreditation is simple and free.


       To receive VA accreditation, you will need to file an application (Form 21) with the VA’s Office of General Counsel. The form takes only minutes to complete, and you will receive your accreditation certificate in 6-8 weeks. To maintain your accreditation, you must complete 3 hours of CLE training in veterans law within 12 months of your accreditation. See 38 C.F.R. §14.629(b)(iii). After that, you must complete 3 hours of qualifying CLE every 2 years. The Veterans Law Clinic provides qualifying CLE training to all of its volunteers for free. You can learn more about VA accreditation here.


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       What if I need to stop volunteering?


       Because VA disability cases can take several years, we understand that volunteer attorneys must sometimes discontinue representation before the case has concluded. We build this possibility into our program structure and ensure that we work closely with our volunteer attorneys on each case. We maintain a mirror case file at the Veterans Law Clinic and ensure that we always have a current Retainer Agreement and Medical Records Authorization form signed by our client. As a result, we have never had any difficulty with transitioning a case from one volunteer attorney to someone else if a volunteer needs to discontinue representation.


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       How much support do you provide?


       We work as co-counsel with all of our volunteer attorneys on each step of each case. Veterans represented by a volunteer attorneys are clients of both the Veterans Law Clinic and the volunteer attorney. We maintain a Retainer Agreement, Medical Records Authorization, and paper and electronic case file for every client represented by a volunteer attorney. We also keep track of the deadlines by which key documents must be filed. While the volunteer attorney serves as lead counsel and does much of the day-to-day work, we are always available to provide guidance, review draft documents, and answer questions.


       Because most of our volunteer attorneys have no experience in veterans law prior to joining our Pro Bono Program, we also conduct veterans law training for our volunteers, provide them with key document templates, and ensure they have a copy of the Veterans Benefits Manual CD published by Lexis/Nexis. When we have multiple volunteers from a single firm, we generally provide one copy of the Veterans Benefits Manual per firm.


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       I’m new to veterans law. How do I receive training?


       If you’re new to veterans law, don’t worry. Most of our volunteer attorneys have no prior experience in veterans law prior to joining our Pro Bono Program. Because VA disability cases move slowly, you will have time to learn as you go. And, although veterans find the appeals process somewhat complex, most attorneys find it relatively straightforward. New volunteers generally attend a brief orientation meeting. They are provided a copy of our resource guide and key document templates. They are also welcome to attend the free CLE training we offer. Finally, we try to ensure that each volunteer receives a copy of the Veterans Benefits Manual CD published by Lexis/Nexis. When we have multiple volunteers from a single firm, we generally provide one copy of the Veterans Benefits Manual per firm.


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       Can I get CLE for the training you provide?


       Yes. Several times each year we provide 3 hours of CLE training for free on veterans law topics. The training qualifies for 3 credits of CLE in DE and PA. Attorneys licensed elsewhere must seek CLE credit directly from their state bar. The training meets the requirements for continuing VA accreditation as contained in 38 C.F.R. §14,629(b).


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       What about malpractice insurance?


       Volunteer attorneys whose primary policy does not cover their pro bono activities are covered by the umbrella policy under which the Veterans Law Clinic operates.


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       How do you choose your clients?


       Our goal is to provide legal services to those veterans with meritorious cases who cannot afford a private attorney. As a result, we have income eligibility guidelines for prospective clients. We generally represent clients who live in the Delaware Valley region and whose claims are on file with a Regional Office in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Newark, or Baltimore.


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       I don’t live in the Delaware Valley region. Can I still help?


       Yes. If you have a law school near you with a veterans clinic, you can contact them to see how you can help. If not, you can write letters to your law school or the law schools near you to urge them to start a veterans law clinic. You can contact us and ask that we add your name to our Attorney Locator Program so that we can refer to you any veterans who contact us and live in your area. You also can contact the ABA’s Project Salute and volunteer your assistance. Finally, you can work with your state and local bar associations’ veterans committees to organize veterans legal clinics (such as those held regularly by the Texas Bar) or to put together a state-wide CLE program in veterans law (such as Delaware’s program in 2011).