Published November 6, 2014
Many veterans, after serving our nation well, face huge challenges, including homelessness, lack of financial stability, and access to basic necessities. Next semester, the SUNY Buffalo Law School clinical program will launch a new Veterans’ Economic Security Clinic to help these heroes.
The clinic will provide free civil legal services to western New York veterans facing eviction and consumer debt issues. Law faculty and students will work to prevent veterans’ homelessness and increase their financial security by helping them navigate the legal system, and crafting comprehensive suggestions for needed law reform. The clinic will strive to ensure equity in securing basic necessities required to thrive in civilian life.
An event celebrating the launch of this new clinic will be held on Veteran’s Day, Tuesday, November 11, at 10 a.m. in the Cellino and Barnes Conference Center on the 5th floor of the SUNY Buffalo Law School. Speakers will include UB Provost Charles Zukoski, Dean Makau W. Mutua and a Veterans Administration representative. Also attending will be veterans associated with the law school and the University, student lawyers and faculty who will work in the new clinic, and various community partners. The event is free and open to the public.
“This clinic will help serve critical needs in the veterans’ community while giving students the opportunity to get great hands-on experience,” says Professor Kim Diana Connolly, the Director of Clinical Legal Education and Vice Dean for Legal Skills. “The Veterans Clinic will dovetail nicely with our strong existing clinical programs serving vulnerable populations in western New York,” says Connolly.
In addition to getting direct experience representing real clients, students in the Veterans’ Clinic will have the opportunity to serve our veterans in other ways, including conducting on-site legal intake in places that are central to the community such as the Veterans Administration Hospital. Clinic students will also work with community partners to recommend systemic policy changes to assist veterans and advocate for reform. While many law schools nationwide have invested in clinics addressing vital veterans’ issues in recent years, SUNY Buffalo’s clinic will take a unique approach while focusing on issues that do not overlap with existing services available to Western NY veterans from other sources.
“I am very excited about the launch of the clinic. It’s going to be great for the community and for students,” says Roman Fontana, an attorney with the Veterans One-stop Center of Western New York. “Landlord-tenant issues and consumer debt problems are some of the most common legal concerns facing veterans here in Buffalo, and we are looking forward to working with clinical students and faculty to help make an immediate impact in these areas,” says Fontana.
Cody Jacobs, an Instructor and Clinical Teaching Fellow at SUNY Buffalo Law School, has been named to launch this clinic. Jacobs has litigation and policy experience, and was named a California Lawyer Magazine Attorney of the Year for his pro bono work. “I am thrilled to be able to start a veterans’ clinic here in Buffalo,” says Jacobs, “I am proud of SUNY Buffalo Law School’s willingness to dedicate resources to helping veterans get the help they need and deserve. It has also been a pleasure to work with such amazing partners in the community, who have been so supportive in our efforts to get this clinic off the ground.”
The clinic will be open to second and third year students and will begin at the start of the spring semester. Students who enroll will be admitted under New York’s student practice rule so they can take the lead in client representation as “student attorneys,” including interviewing and counseling clients, negotiating with opposing counsel, and making court appearances.
“Clinics like this give students a great opportunity to learn valuable lawyering skills, while providing quality representation to people in need,” says Paul Curtin, an attorney at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo. “It’s really a win-win,” Curtin says.