Recognizing that the Richmond area is home to a large number of veterans, a group of students from the University of Richmond School of Law set out to find new ways to support and engage that community. The goal was to create a simple and sustainable outreach program that could provide a direct and immediate benefit to their target audience. “The things that veterans need are not cool and sexy,” said Greg Collins, L’15. They’re the common, everyday things that any community needs, he explained. And that’s where the new Wills for Veterans initiative came into play.

A former Marine and a Tillman Military Scholar, Collins is president of the Veteran and Military Law Association. Collins and Ed Simpson, L’14, worked to build a relationship with the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond over the past few years. They partnered with the polytrauma unit to host pizza nights, and brought veterans to campus for tailgate parties before Spider football games. The focus was on creating a relationship “from the ground up,” said Collins. Last year, the group hosted a symposium through the Journal of Law and the Public Interest on veterans issues in the Commonwealth.

After attending a veterans’ law forum in Washington, D.C., last year, Collins was looking for a way to further engage the law school community – not just the Veteran and Military Law Association. “There’s a big interest in helping veterans among the law students,” said Collins. So he started a conversation with Tara Casey, director of the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service.

To get the ball rolling, Casey enlisted the help of an alumnus. As the pro bono partner at Williams Mullen, Andrew Nea, L’66, had developed a program to provide a will, power of attorney, and advanced medical directive to low-income seniors. “The key to the program is simplicity,” said Nea. Because of that simplicity, “It’s very adaptable.”

In adapting the program for veterans, a relationship with the McGuire Center was key. “The host organization does the advertising, the scheduling, and the screening,” said Nea. He provides the supplies and the attorneys, and the students round out the volunteer team.

Each attorney is paired with a law student; together, the team walks each client through the processes and procedures. The benefit for law students is apparent: “These are real people with real needs,” explained Nea. “You can, in a short time, really make a difference.”

Nicole Manning, L’16, comes from a military family, and was one of six students who volunteered for the April 8 event. The veterans “serve us, and anything I can do to help serve them is really close to my heart,” said Manning.

The attorneys and law students served 15 veterans at the inaugural Wills for Veterans session. Each client spent about 45 minutes with a student-attorney pair to create the necessary documents before having them notarized. And the reaction was a positive one.

“They were so thankful,” said Manning, “which was amazing to me: to be thanked by a vet!”