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Service to School helping veterans enter top-tier law schools

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The halls and classrooms of your favorite law schools are becoming a lot more green—and we are not just referencing more environmentally friendly schools. We’re talking about more military veterans gaining admittance to top tier universities through Service to School.

Service to School is a non-profit organization that provides “free application counseling to military veterans” with a goal to help veterans maximize their education benefits by gaining admissions to the best university possible. Veterans connect with individual ambassadors who assist with undergraduate admissions, business, law, and other graduate programs. Veterans can connect for free with an ambassador to receive individualized feedback and support through each step of the application process including: test preparation advice, transcript and application review, interview preparation, and networking.

“Service to School provided me a tremendous advantage in the law school application process,” said Lauren Morina, a student at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and a current Service to School ambassador. “I was paired with an ambassador who provided guidance every step of the way. With my ambassador’s feedback, I felt confident in having prepared application materials that highlighted the skills I acquired through military service and emphasizing their value in the classroom.

“Service to School facilitates a unique opportunity to network with other veterans who serve as valuable resources in most successfully navigating your transition. Now, having made the transition with the help of Service to School, I am eager to share what I have learned in becoming an S2S ambassador myself. I look forward to helping other transitioning veterans achieve the most favorable outcomes in their academic endeavors.”

The law school side of the organization, which is referred to as JD Ops to keep the military flavor, is comprised of around 80 ambassadors—all who serve as volunteers. Over the course of last year’s admission cycle, these ambassadors supported nearly 350 individual veteran applicants. These veterans have gone on to matriculate at some of the most prestigious schools in the country. In addition to law school, Service to School has ambassadors for undergraduate, business, and other master’s programs. The organization also partners with select universities as part of its VetLink program.

“For me going to law school was both a huge opportunity and a great challenge,” said Eric Gilliland of William & Mary Law School. “When I made the decision to apply, I had been out of college for seven years. I spent six of those years serving in the United States Army, but applying to law school was a challenge the military doesn’t really prepare you for, so I was feeling a little overwhelmed.

“That’s where S2S stepped in and made all the difference. S2S got me in touch with alumni, as well as, current students at each of my top choice law schools. They helped me draft my resume, personal statement, and even guided me through preparing for the LSAT. On top of all that, their support helped me gain admissions into one of my ‘reach’ schools. If it was not for S2S I’m not sure I would be where I am today.”

Michael Stinnett-Kassoff, a student Washington and Lee University School of Law and Service to School co-director, said “The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was one of the greatest investments Congress made in modern history. For every dollar invested in World War II veterans for education benefits, the U.S. received almost seven dollars in return through sustained economic growth.

“Through my work with Service 2 School, I aim to help the veterans of today’s war on terror not only take advantage of every benefit they earned, but contribute towards the long-term economic growth of the U.S. by attending our nation’s top  schools just as our predecessors—the Greatest Generation— once did.”

Many veterans want to continue their service well after they leave the military. Service to School enables these veterans receive the education and training to maximize their impact to serve in a new capacity. Veterans help provide diversity and experience to the classroom, which helps their classmates and universities.

“When I decided to apply to law school and business school, I did not know what to do. The help that I received from fellow veterans—those who came before me and chose to pay it forward—was instrumental in my admission to school,” said Phil Caruso, a student at Harvard Law School and a Service to School ambassador. “When I applied, there was no one-stop-shop for that kind of help; I relied upon my network. But I realized that without that network, I would have been left behind. I decided to join S2S to pay it forward, and equally important, to make sure no veteran gets left behind.”.

Andrew Webber, one of the Service to School JD Ops co-directors, said “S2S helps veterans maximize their law school outcome. I was lucky enough to have access to generous, selfless lawyers and law students who helped me understand law school for what it is: the first important business decision in my new profession. Those mentors gave me a crystal-clear view of law school admissions, and law school’s role in setting one up for future employment. Because of this, I knuckled down on the LSAT and applied early to schools tailored to my long-term professional and financial goals.

“I’d like to see every veteran have that same opportunity. The GI Bill is such a special benefit, and we are so lucky to have it, and the other benefits our country bestows veterans, that I want to make sure everyone uses such a priceless gift in the best way.”

The ABA is looking to help veterans in other capacities, too. The ABA Veterans Legal Service Initiative, established by 2016-2017 ABA President Linda Klein, is positioning the ABA to lead a holistic, sustainable effort to ensure that veterans have access to justice and receive the legal support they, their families, and their caregivers deserve.

“American democracy is based on the rule of law – but there would be no rule of law without the brave service of our nation’s military veterans who risked their lives to defend the liberties we enjoy,” Klein said. “That’s why lawyers in particular are profoundly grateful for their sacrifice and are committed to involving them fully in American life. We work in the legal system every day and appreciate that our freedoms would not be possible without the military’s strong defense of our nation.

“The American Bar Association and its Veterans Legal Services Initiative are also committed to building awareness of the special legal needs veterans face—problems with wrongful denial of benefits, employment and family matters, evictions and homelessness, and involvement in the criminal justice system. We’re promoting more pro bono legal assistance, more clinics at law schools and bar associations, and more legal services coordination for veterans in need. Lawyers who are veterans themselves are especially enthusiastic about this work and bring a critical perspective to their colleagues who serve veterans.”

As the ABA continues to expand and promote pro bono legal assistance for veterans, law students and schools can work towards diversifying their classrooms by adding more veterans. Veterans wishing to connect with an ambassador or get involved should apply directly to Service to School. To find out how your university can better reach veterans, contact the author.

J. David Thompson J David Thompson is a Juris Doctorate candidate at Washington and Lee University School of Law. Prior to W&L, he served as a Military Police officer and Special Operations Civil Affairs with multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Jordan.