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Cornell Law Expands Legal Services for Veterans with New Grant

On June 29, Cornell Law School was one of three law schools nationwide to receive a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide legal services for veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Cornell Law School, Emory University School of Law, and Syracuse University College of Law were among seventy-nine public or non-profit organizations that were awarded a total of $11.5 million under the VA’s first-of-its-kind Legal Services for Veterans Grant Program.

Danielle Bernard (left) and Jimmy Hardwick

Danielle Bernard (left) and Jimmy Hardwick are instructors for the new Veterans Law Practicum, which started in fall 2023.

The grant has enabled the Law School’s Public Interest Department to hire James Hardwick as the first full-time veterans law staff attorney. This position will create pro bono opportunities to law students seeking to fulfill their fifty-hour requirement for New York State Bar Admission and give back to the local community. In addition to the full-time staff attorney role, James joins Danielle Bernard, an Air Force veteran of twenty-one years, as adjunct faculty directing the new Veterans Law Practicum, which is funded for one year under this VA grant.

“We are honored the VA has awarded this impactful grant to our practicum, which will allow us to serve veterans across central and western New York who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness,” says Hardwick. “We are grateful for the opportunity for our students to work with clients experiencing poverty and housing insecurity. They will witness first-hand our obligation as lawyers to leverage our legal training in the service of others, especially for those who served our country.”

Professor and students taking part in Veterans Law Practicum class.

Students taking part in a recent Veterans Law Practicum class.

There are more than 4,100 veterans in Tompkins County alone, according to Michaela K. Rossettie Azemi, director of Public Interest and Community Engagement, and one of the most frequent issues they face is housing instability. The grant will allow Cornell Law students to provide free legal assistance to approximately sixty veterans over the course of this year, notes Rossettie Azemi. The legal support will primarily focus on eviction and homelessness prevention and will take place through coursework in the Veterans Law Practicum and through pro bono volunteer hours dedicated to working under the supervision of Hardwick, the new full-time staff attorney.

“This project is especially poignant given the focus on helping veterans who are unhoused, or at risk of homelessness, right here in our hometown,” says Rossettie Azemi. “Being one of only three law schools across the country awarded this grant, and the fact that Cornell University was recently awarded a number one ranking for veteran students, solidifies our commitment to educating ‘lawyers in the best sense’ and fosters a sense of pride in our community.”

“I’m delighted to see this recognition for Michaela’s and our veteran students’ dedicated work, and it’s a pleasure to welcome Danielle and James to the faculty to found our newest Practicum,” added Jens Ohlin, Allan R. Tessler Dean Professor of Law.

The grant, created as a part of VA’s implementation of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D., Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, is intended to help veterans in a variety of ways, including eviction prevention, child support, custody, estate planning,  public benefits criminal defense, and Armed Forces discharge or dismissal upgrades.

Veterans and service members seeking free legal assistance may contact the intake line at (607)377-5116 or complete an intake form at https://forms.gle/MbrkewiAQj5GeGLe7. Please reach out directly to Michaela Rossettie Azemi at ma688@cornell.edu.

In addition, to help support the program and its efforts, please click here.

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