USC Gould Search

Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

Veterans Legal Practicum (Spring 2019)

  • Course Number: LAW-834
  • Class Number: 03588
  • Instructor: Laura Riley

Course Description

Co-taught with Dwight Stirling dstirling@vetslegal.com

Course Description: The Veterans Legal Practicum will combine substantive lectures with a skills practicum. The practicum will allow law students to hone their legal skills while providing free, quality representation to veterans of the United States Armed Forces in administrative proceedings.  Students will work directly with veterans on discharge upgrades, disability compensation appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system, and other substantive legal matters. 

The course will be taught by Adjunct Professors Laura Riley and Dwight Stirling.  Professor Riley has worked on behalf of veterans at public interest non-profits.  Professor Stirling is a reserve judge advocate in the California Army National Guard and the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Veterans Legal Institute. Professors Riley and Stirling will discuss veterans-related issues and provide students with a foundation in administrative law, outlining the framework of handling matters in the VA and Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucratic systems. 

Students are expected to prepare and actively participate in class, as well as communicate regularly with the instructors regarding status of their cases.  Students will gain practical experience in administrative law by evaluating cases and drafting legal memoranda. 

Students will also have the opportunity to provide direct client services, draft and file briefs in the VA appellate system as well as in the DoD discharge review system.  

Students will be evaluated based on the quality of client representation, including knowledge of the applicable law, ability to develop and knowledge of relevant facts, initiative, professionalism, ability to identify issues and develop effective strategies, and class participation.

10 students

Practicum Learning Goals: The Veterans Legal Practicum introduces students to the lawyer/client relationship directly.  Students will provide legal services to clients, service members or veterans who will rely on the students to represent their interests efficaciously.  Experiencing this reliance is the one of the best ways for law students to appreciate the implications of the role of the lawyer and the foundations of professional responsibility.  Students will need to draw on their previous law school experience, life experience, and common sense in order to perform well.  Students will analyze and implement case strategies, draft client declarations, assist in preparing expert statements, gather supporting documentation, research country conditions, and develop trial advocacy skills.

A practicum course puts students in regular contact with faculty members.  Much of the contact is spontaneous and informal.  The practicum faculty will be accessible to students, but it is primarily up to the students to initiate the informal contact.  The objective is to work collaboratively.  Students are expected to make their duties in the Veterans Practicum a priority and be prepared to devote substantial time to the seminar and their clients’ legal matters. 

Ultimately, the overall goal of the Veterans Practicum is to create a specialized learning laboratory where law students can develop their legal skills and professional values while providing quality legal services to veterans with pressing legal matters.  Many of our clients will have substance abuse or mental health problems, challenges which most often stem from their time in uniform.  As such, our learning goals in the Veterans Practicum include, but are not limited to:

Learning how to work with clients who may have disabilities or are vulnerable due to conditions or experiences of military service.
Developing skills in interviewing, investigating, and counseling.
Developing skills in working with professionals from other disciplines, such as social workers, physicians, and mental health workers.
Developing advocacy skills in the administrative law context.
Learning how to advocate (outside the context of a case) for a particular group or community, such as veterans.
Reflecting on both systemic insights and personal development in the context of a quality practicum experience.

Grading: Final grades in the course will be determined as follows:       

30% - Class participation (includes discussion of readings and demonstrated understanding of legal issues)

40% - Clinical performance (includes participation in case updates; client interviewing skills; professionalism with clients and professors)

30% - Written work (written advocacy on behalf of client; drafts to professors)

Classroom: The Veterans Practicum will meet twice a week. The first session each week will consist of a seminar on substantive legal issues, with the professors presenting academic materials pertaining to the practice of veterans law, followed by a roundtable discussion of the assigned readings and materials.  The second weekly meeting will be dedicated to case updates, informal discussions between professors and students, legal issues, strategies, and group collaboration. 

There will be a well-developed practicum pedagogy with ample amounts of supervision and feedback, and an emphasis on life-long, transferrable lawyering skills, specifically:

Basic Lawyering Skills:  Through practical experience in the field and in classroom simulations, we expect students to develop their skills and learn the relevant law.   Students will interview clients and witnesses; investigate facts; research the law; write pleadings and memos; negotiate; and advocate in a real courtroom. 

Learning from experience:  Students will begin to master the lifelong skill of learning from experience—not only about the law, but also about themselves.   We want our students to become reflective lawyers who are not only highly skilled professionals, but who care about the quality of the justice, ethics, and morality of the profession.

Developing good lawyer judgment:  In the process of (1) and (2) and drawing on lessons from all other classes, we hope to help hone [or develop] our students’ legal judgment.   By “lawyer judgment” we mean accepting responsibility for and making the kinds of decisions—both practical and ethical—that lawyers are called upon to make, regardless of their area of practice. 

The practical, hands-on aspect of the course is the most important aspect of the Veterans Practicum.Under the supervision of the professors, students are expected to take significant strides in their lawyering abilities, showing competence in the following areas:

Problem solving
Legal analysis and reasoning
Legal interviewing
Fact investigation
Counseling
Knowledge of administrative procedure
Collaboration
Organization and time management
Accepting constructive criticism
Self-reflection
Leaning from experience
Responsibility
Participation in class

Course Details

  • Unit Value: 4
  • Schedule: M/W 4:00 pm - 5:50 pm
  • Room Number: Room 118/120
  • Exam: None
  • Writing Requirement: Yes with submission of the Upper Division Writing Requirement Form.
  • Skills/Experiential Unit Requirement: yes
  • Participation: Required and graded
  • Enrollment Limitation: 10 students