The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS). The first clinic of its kind at any law school in the United States of America, M-VETS provides free legal representation to active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their dependents while offering law students the opportunity to receive supervised, practical legal experience by advocating for those who serve or have served in our armed forces.
HISTORY: It’s our 10 Year Anniversary!
The Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University is so close to the Pentagon that the smoke from the crash site on September 11, 2001, was visible from the school’s front entrance. A number of George Mason law students were in the Pentagon when it was struck. When a law student who was mobilized from the classroom and deployed to Iraq wrote that his wife’s landlord was threatening to evict her from their residence, the law school secured the assistance of a graduate who favorably resolved the matter. This is the environment in which the idea was born to create a clinic to help servicemembers and their families who cannot afford counsel.
The clinic was formally established M-VETS in 2004 to provide Mason law students with valuable practical experience in client relations, drafting, negotiation and litigation, while also providing servicemembers and their families valuable assistance to address the issues and challenges faced by deploying members of our armed forces.There was nothing like it in American legal education.
Through the years, the clinic has stood at the forefront of law school clinical education with regard to providing legal services to servicemembers and veterans, assisting scores of servicemembers, their families and veterans in a wide range of matters. Clients have come from all five armed services, including a number who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the years, M-VETS has been successful in assisting servicemembers, their families and veterans in landlord-tenant matters, consumer protection and contract issues, uncontested divorces, step-parent and close-relative adoptions, MEB/PEBs, discharge upgrades, military pay and entitlement matters in federal and state forums. The services rendered by M-VETS have a direct bearing on the readiness, quality of life and morale of the armed forces and various other state and federal administrative matters.
M-VETS students are afforded case supervision by the clinic staff and private practitioners who volunteer their subject-matter expertise and bar qualifications, and weekly classroom instruction on legal ethics, client interviewing and issues involved in their cases.
Since its inception, over 178 Mason law students have enrolled in M-VETS, and several dozen have been accepted into a JAG Corps after graduation.
In 2014, the clinic was amici curiae in the companion cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, US v. Wong and U.S. v. June, advocating for the application of equitable tolling to claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Court agreed. Former clinic director Laurie Forbes Neff was co-counsel on the brief along with James C. Martin, Colin E. Wrabley, Patric M. Emery and M. Patrick Yingling, of Reed Smith LLP-all of whom generously assisted the clinic pro bono. In 2006 clinic students were amici curiae in the only brief from the law school community that supported, against constitutional attack, the Solomon Amendment, which provides an incentive for law schools to allow on campus recruiters from the military. The Amendment was upheld by unanimous decision of the Court in Chief Justice Roberts’ first constitutional opinion (see “Supreme Court Smackdown”). Professor and former Dean Dan Polsby, Professor Nelson Lund and former Executive Director Zengerle were co-counsel on the brief.
M-VETS has received written support and recognition from the President of the United States, the U.S. Senators from Virginia and the U.S. Congressman from the law school’s Arlington district, the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (DoD), The Judge Advocate General of the Army, the Staff Judge Advocate at MCB Quantico, and all five legal assistance policy chiefs of the armed forces. M-VETS has been featured in essays appearing in the National Law Journal, Business Law Today and the Richmond Times-Dispatch and in articles in the Washington Post, the Legal Times, Stars and Stripes,and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.