Veteran's Legal Practicum
Based on the initiative of 2L students Leigh Argentieri and Dave Coogan (pictured), Pitt Law will be launching a new Veterans Legal Practicum in order to meet a growing need in our community.
This Spring, Pitt Law will be launching its first Veteran’s Legal Practicum. Recognizing the need to provide legal assistance to the veterans’ population in Western Pennsylvania, Pitt Law alumna Meredith Odato, ’11 spearheaded the development of a veterans’-focused practicum and, upon her graduation, handed the leadership reigns over to 2L students Dave Coogan and Leigh Argentieri. While the objective of the clinic is to give back to the veteran’s community, it is also extremely beneficial to students to gain this valuable practical clinical experience that they can then carry over into careers after graduation. It gives them the tools necessary to continue to give back as part of their pro-bono requirement and at the same time expands the network of attorneys willing to help veterans.
In an effort to get a better sense of the reception with which the clinic would be met, Coogan and Argentieri met with seasoned attorneys working with veterans’ issues and needs as well as with local veterans’ organizations. What they heard back was nothing short of overwhelming support for this idea. With the help of Pitt Law alumnus Fred Thieman, ’77, who was instrumental in helping them understand how to get funding for the clinic as well as other members of the Pitt Law community, the students put together a proposal and presented it to former Law School Dean Mary Crossley who, after hearing the pitch, placed her full support behind the idea.
The practicum has, at its core, four main goals: to assist veterans in filing and processing their initial claims for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); to identify trends in veteran’s legal issues for the region; to connect existing programs designed to assist veterans; and to refer veterans to other attorneys for legal issues that the clinic cannot address. The initial phase of the clinic will be a practicum where students will be instructed by an adjunct faculty member on topics relating to veterans’ legal issues. At a more granular level, the Clinic hours that will be provided two days a month will serve veterans filing their VA claim with assistance from not only students, but also a volunteer staff attorney. Another part of the proposal that Coogan and Argentieri hope to establish is a “referral network”, noting that a well-built network is essential to most effectively assisting veterans. Since the clinic will only be assisting with the filing of VA claims, they anticipate that there will be requests for other types of legal issues. The clinic will utilize its community connections to refer veterans to other attorneys who are willing to work with them. Having a centralized network will help to expedite the process for veterans who don’t know who to turn to for legal assistance after leaving the military.
To date, the Clinic has received sufficient funding from the University at large, Pitt Law, the Buhl Foundation, the Hillman Family Foundations, and the DSF Charitable Foundation to establish phase one of the practicum. Pitt Law hopes to establish a full blown Veterans Legal Clinic along with a medical-legal partnership that would meet a broader range of veteran’s needs, including medical, health, and mental health services.
If you are interested in providing support to this initiative or would like more information, please contact the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs at 412-648-1305 or firstname.lastname@example.org.