While the COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous challenges, it also provided opportunities. Historically, the reach of the law school’s 18 service learning opportunities has generally been limited to the Athens area, with the exception of the Washington, D.C., and Atlanta semester programs.
However, key funding from the American Bar Association and the Callaway Foundation have led to the development of service delivery models taking advantage of everyone’s growing comfort with technology and virtual services.
During the academic year, the school’s Veterans Legal Clinic partnered with the Georgia Legal Services Program/Military Legal Assistance Project – courtesy of an ABA grant – to deliver virtual legal clinics for veterans relating to benefits and other civil legal matters in underserved parts of the Peach State. The Georgia Veterans Outreach Project built on previous work of the clinic, which had some experience serving veterans in nearly 60 Georgia counties.
With physical locations in Albany, Athens, Augusta, Brunswick, Columbus, Dalton, Gainesville, Macon and Savannah providing reliable telephone/internet connections as well as computers, printers and scanners, more than 100 former military members were able to connect with GVOP legal advisers remotely for brief service and referrals using video conferencing software and telephones. During these meetings, clinic staff and students as well as clients followed CDC health and safety protocols.
Veterans Legal Clinic Director Alexander W. Scherr said the work of the GVOP was very successful and provided a wealth of information on how law school clinics can deliver services outside of the Athens area, whether in person or virtually.
With a $200,000 grant from the Callaway Foundation, the move to offer legal services to rural and legally underserved communities in Georgia was bolstered.
“This new funding to upgrade and expand technology will be pivotal in growing the provision of legal services and education,” Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge said. “The pandemic and new technologies are changing the way legal services can be provided. I want to thank the Callaway Foundation for this significant gift that will allow the School of Law to more fully embrace these changes to benefit Georgia’s citizens, including those in rural areas.”
This past summer, several of the law school’s clinics began rolling out additional legal assistance events for the benefit of underserved areas throughout the state, including Troup County where the Callaway Foundation is based.
The Veterans Legal Clinic – which has helped approximately 150 veterans and their family members claim nearly $1,000,000 in benefits since it was established – is funded by a lead gift from renowned trial attorney and 1977 law school alumnus James E. “Jim” Butler Jr., who also supports the school’s Butler Commitment that guarantees financial aid to 100% of student veteran law school matriculants.