This is a guest blog post from Veterans Legal Corps Fellow Richard Morris ('15), of Legal Aid of West Virginia in Morgantown, West Virginia.
After graduating from West Virginia University College of Law in the spring of 2015, I was searching for an opportunity that would allow me to help people who were most vulnerable in my community. I had moved to West Virginia from Wisconsin not only to attend law school, but because I felt a deep connection to the people in this area, and I wanted to use my abilities as an attorney to help make my new home better. That’s what drew me to this position as an AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works Veterans Fellow: not only has this position expanded my knowledge as a young attorney, it has also given me the opportunity to make a difference in my community. By working with veterans who would otherwise not have any legal recourse, I know the difference I’ve been able to make, and the lives I’ve been able to change. The work that I’ve done as an AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works Fellow is exactly the type of work I envisioned for myself before attending law school, and it’s been better than I could ever have imagined.
My host site during my Fellowship has been Legal Aid of West Virginia, and though my work often keeps me in Morgantown, it has taken me throughout the state. From unincorporated municipalities and small college towns to Charleston, the capital, I have met and defended clients all over West Virginia. I have taken cases for representation involving a multitude of civil matters, including divorce and child custody, wills, deeds, civil suits for unfair sales practices, and guardianship. As a young attorney, I couldn’t ask for a better and more expansive introduction to the practice of law. In addition to the legal work I am doing, I also have been able to build partnerships within my community so that I may reach more veterans. I’ve helped to established a local veteran’s community engagement board, which brings together community stake holders who help to fill in the gaps where the VA may fall short. Furthermore, I have established a working collaboration with the West Virginia University College of Law Veterans Clinic to bring together our resources and help aid veterans seeking review of VA benefits decisions and discharge upgrades. Lastly, in collaboration with the VA, I have established a monthly legal clinic within the community that enables veterans to seek free legal guidance.
So far in my year and a half in this position, I have advised, assisted, and represented close to 200 veterans. I’ve successfully helped grandparents gain guardianship over their grandchildren. I’ve won Social Security cases, ensuring clients get much needed disability benefits. I’ve litigated cases involving roadways, as well as against a used car dealership, which sold a veteran a bad car. I’ve done all of this and much more in my time as an AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works Veterans Legal Fellow. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I can’t thank the people enough who make this fellowship possible. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done, because at the end of the day, I know I’m making a difference and fostering real change within my community.