Saturday, November 3, 2012

Veterans Day in America, November 11, 2012 - U.S. Law Firms and Lawyers Play Key Roles in Supporting the U.S. Military and Veterans*

EXCERPT – from the article published in the November 2012 issue of Strategies, The Journal of Legal Marketing.

This article highlights just some of the numerous law firms and lawyers throughout the United States who represent, support and/or help the people who help create, protect and defend freedoms - for Americans, their allies, friends and citizens of other nations worldwide.

Without the commitment, effort, work, sacrifice, service and dedication of millions of veterans, active members of the military, their families and supporters − our Republic and democracy as we know it and our cherished freedoms would not exist as they do today. As one member of The Patriot Guard (a group of veterans and other volunteers who honor fallen military heroes nationwide) perfectly summarizes: "America is the land of the free, because of the brave."

For lawyers whose practice already includes representing members of the military and/or veterans or for those lawyers/law firms interested in doing so, the American Bar Association (ABA) website offers over 7,000 resources which can be accessed by visiting the site and typing "Veterans" in the search bar. Many state bars have also developed either heroes' and/or heroes' and veterans' assistance programs, for example the state bars of Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.

Pro bono representation opportunities to help veterans and their families abound. For example, the case of Snyder v. Phelps, which was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in 2009, was undertaken completely pro bono by the Pennsylvania law firm of Barley Snyder. The case originated in 2005, when Albert Snyder, the father of deceased Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, approached the firm asking if they would help him sue Fred Phelps, his family and their "church" for their vile, vicious and cruel protest of his son's military funeral. "Once this case was accepted by SCOTUS, I and many other veterans were quick to fully support Al Snyder and his lawyers in their efforts to protect the sanctity of military funerals," says Larry L. Twitchell, Major General, USAF (ret.). In 2010, while SCOTUS found against Al Snyder on First Amendment grounds, he was ultimately victorious because on August 6, 2012, POTUS signed a new law containing a provision prohibiting all military funeral protests nationwide two hours before and two hours after any such service.

In another case, Steptoe & Johnson partner Stephen Fennell, Chair of the firm’s Litigation Group, serves as lead counsel for his firm which since 2002 has represented Gulf War POWs in a contentious, high-profile lawsuit against Iraq for damages arising out of the torture of the POWs while they were in captivity. In 2003, in the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, Judge Richard Roberts ruled that the Iraqi defendants were liable for almost $1 billion U.S. dollars in damages, stating in his ruling, "No one would subject himself for any price to the terror, torment, and pain experienced by these American POWs," and "there must be a premium on protecting POWs [because] POWs are uniquely disadvantaged and deterring torture should be of the highest priority." This ruling in favor of the POWs and their families was unfortunately challenged at length by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other government agencies and officials. Finally, in mid-2011, after extensive negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, and meetings with and between POWs’ counsel and members of Congress, a settlement agreement was reached for Saddam Hussein-era claims against POWs. Stephen Fennell, lead counsel for the POWs in this case states: "This settlement allows the POWs families finally to achieve closure and sends a message of deterrence against the torture of future American POWs."

Every lawyer, law firm, law firm and legal industry employee can help support U.S. troops and veterans if they so desire. There are many great ways to do so, and many pro bono efforts/charities/groups exist. Excellent and bona fide pro bono and/or volunteer programs that support veterans can be found by contacting: The American Legion the VFW; the ABA and/or state bars. To volunteer and/or donate in the most productive manner, be sure to first verify the group/organization (because not all veterans’ charities/organizations use/apply their donations legitimately). Websites to visit to verify charities’ track records include: the American Institute of Philanthropy, Charity Navigator and/or GuideStar.

*This article is not intended to be 100% complete or exhaustive. It contains representative information known to the author at the time of publication and as space allowed.

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