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Earning your wings through veteran pro bono

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Felix Smith came into the Veteran’s Service Office location of the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics (MVLC) in Milwaukee, Wis., to receive legal advice regarding a contract he signed for improvements in his home. Smith was able to attend the Veteran’s Service Office location because of his service as a pilot in World War II.

After the war ended, Smith became a pilot with Air America.  This was a dummy corporation formed by the CIA to conduct covert military operations, posing as a civilian airline.  Missions were flown in the Peoples Republic of China, Indochina (Vietnam), Burma (now Myanmar), Laos, Taiwan, and Japan.  After the end of the Vietnam War, Air America was dissolved.

Felix SmithSmith (pictured at the clinic) recounts his days with Air America in China Pilot: Flying for Chennault During the Cold War. China Pilot was published by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press in 2000.

While at the MVLC, Smith was matched with attorney Julie Darnieder and Marquette University Law Student Rachel Scott. After hearing the details of Smith’s case, Darnieder decided to represent Smith pro bono. By the time Darnieder became involved with the case, the contractor obtained a default judgment against Felix. Darnieder was able to get the case reopened, which vacated the previously entered judgment. The parties agreed to try mediation in an effort to resolve the matter before going to trial. After two mediation sessions, the parties reached an agreement. With Darnieder’s counsel, the Smiths were able to communicate with the contractor’s attorney and reach an agreement that settled the matter.

As a student, working with an attorney is one of the most beneficial ways to learn, says Scott. By observing Darnieder and being involved in the case, Scott was given an up-close view of the process, specific legal issues and the resolution of this case. The attorneys’ correspondence in and outside of mediation was a chance to see a legal matter from the beginning of an attorney’s involvement until the end. This opportunity gave Scott the chance, as a student, to come full circle on concepts taught in the classroom. Finally, this opportunity is a reminder of the positive effect that pro bono legal representation can have to those who need it the most.

Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics The Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics (MVLC) are brief legal advice and referral clinics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin run by the Marquette Law School. The MVLC are staffed by volunteer law students working with, and supervised by, licensed volunteer attorneys. The MVLC assist over 4,000 clients each year on a variety of civil legal issues including family, housing, and consumer issues.