How Law Students, Faculty Provide Free Legal Services To Veterans

Matthew Andres, clinical assistant professor of law at Michigan Law, joined Michigan Minds to discuss the services available to veterans in Michigan through the Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC)

Andres is the director of the VLC, and in this episode he outlines the ways that Michigan Law students have helped veterans with civil court cases, how tough it can be for veterans to transition out of the military, and how veterans can receive free legal assistance from the clinic. 

He explains that the VLC works on a variety of civil cases including housing and landlord/tenant, family law, child support, consumer, and employment.

“We handle civil legal cases. Those are cases where people are not facing jail, but they can be very important cases to them in their lives — like getting out from under a child support [payment] that they can’t afford or getting an opportunity to see their children, or making sure that they’re not evicted and therefore made homeless, or trying to get money back that has been basically taken from them by a fraudulent business or somebody else taking advantage of them. We are really focused on the financial, emotional, and even sometimes the physical health and security of our clients and helping them with things like staying in their housing, maintaining relationships with their children, and preserving or regaining their financial security,” Andres says, adding that unlike in criminal cases, where everyone is entitled to an attorney, civil cases do not include that same right to legal representation. 

There are typically 12 to 16 students working in the VLC each semester. It’s one of several clinics at Michigan Law that offers opportunities for students to get experience  in court and represent real people facing real problems. Andres also teaches an accompanying class so the students can learn different skills and put them into practice. He says that the students choose the VLC because they want the opportunity to help veterans;  several of them are veterans themselves or are interested in joining the military as JAG officers after graduating. 

“We feel the clinic is important because, I think, we owe a debt to our veterans who have served our country and have sacrificed for us regardless of what they did in the military, regardless of whether they saw combat or not, they still sacrificed years of their lives for our country and for all of us. You can say thank you for your service, but ultimately we need to do some things for our veterans as well, to thank you for their service — and civil legal service is one area where there is definitely a gap for our veterans,” Andres says. 

As we observe Veterans Day, Andres emphasizes that many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and face other challenges, and that transitioning back into civilian life can be difficult. 

“I think that we have a lot of veterans coming back into regular everyday society and struggling to find jobs, to find some purpose,” he says. “I think we need to keep in mind that it is not just the folks who have seen combat, though they certainly deserve our gratitude and assistance with anything they need. But it’s also many veterans who have not necessarily been in combat roles, but have still served our country, done everything that was asked of them, and they need a little help and a little appreciation as well. And I hope that on Veterans Day, we take the opportunity to show that appreciation to them and to find some way to help the veterans that you know, or that you encounter in your life.” 

Learn more about the Veterans Legal Clinic.