UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. –The Penn State Law Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic and the Centre County Bar hosted a Wills for Heroes event on Saturday, November 5, with assistance from the Pennsylvania (PA) Bar Association’s Pro Bono Coordinator. This event involved local attorneys and about 25 student volunteers assisting over 30 veterans, first responders, and those on the front lines during the pandemic to create wills, living wills, and financial powers of attorney so their legal affairs are in order. The Clinic has worked with the Centre County Bar on this event since 2015.
“We as a law school consider it our way to give back to the community,” said Michele Vollmer, associate dean of clinics and experiential learning, clinical professor of law, and director of the Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic.
Vollmer explained what the students were responsible for during the event and how it provided an opportunity to get hands-on experience. “Students help attorneys with asking questions of clients, gathering copies from the printer, sometimes data entry into the software, and as witnesses to sign the will documents. Students are grateful to work with real clients and see the law and skills they are learning in school put to practical use.
“All their hard work to study seems worth it when they can use their knowledge and skills to help another. That is why most of them went to law school—the desire to help others, especially those unable to afford attorneys’ fees,” Vollmer continued.
Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the Penn State School of International Affairs added, “The Wills for Heroes event gave us the opportunity to reach out and uplift our community of veterans, servicemembers, first responders and those serving the public during the pandemic. These clinics are crucial in making sure people get the help they need and provide our students with experiential learning opportunities, so they understand the responsibilities of serving clients.”
Jessica Warwick, a fourth-year law student in the joint degree program who works for the Clinic, shared, “I was so happy to see how great the turnout was at the Wills for Heroes event. As a law student, I volunteered my time to assist a licensed attorney in completing wills for local veterans. I had the opportunity to speak with the veteran and his family, as well as guide them through the process. I was able to answer clarifying questions for them and fill in the e-form to assist in creating their will. This event was a wonderful opportunity for me to utilize my legal skills in a way that gives back to our community."
Prior to the event, second-year law student and Clinic worker, Jeanette Potter, strategized much of the event’s planning and made sure that veterans and first responders were aware of the event. “I spent hours driving around Centre County hand-delivering pamphlets and information to the different places that first responders work, and where veterans may gather. Who knew we had that many volunteer fire houses in Centre County?” she questioned.
Vollmer added that “Jeanette had it well organized and it worked smoothly. All the clients were very appreciative, even if they had to wait to get their documents notarized or if their attorneys needed help from our IT staff with the software or printing.”
Potter had a lot to say about her experience with the Penn State Law Clinic and helping out the community. “The Clinic gives me the opportunity to take everything I hear about and apply it to a real-life scenario, it forces me to know what I am talking about because I am holding someone else’s well-being in my understanding, not just my own.”
Members of Penn State Law staff volunteered their time to facilitate the day’s operations. Angela Lombardo, clinics and experiential office manager, helped plan and organize the event. Information Technology (IT) staff members Matthew Gardner, Randy Moore, and Justis Reed worked with the Wills for Heroes software to make the event possible and some even volunteered their time to be available for IT issues. Sherry Chaiko, administrative assistant for clinics and experiential learning programs, also pitched in to greet clients. Brenda Porter, recruitment manager with career services, donated her time all day as a notary.
“It was very rewarding to be able to give back to those who have devoted their lives to serving our communities and country,” said Carey Field, a third-year law student in the Clinic.
Volunteers from the Centre County Bar included Executive Director Ken Stanton and President Parviz Ansari, as well as two trust and estates local lawyer experts, Gregory Davidson and Doug Lovinsky, and several other local attorneys.
In addition to this event, Vollmer also hosted a Pro Bono Wills Clinic event with the Family Law Clinic interim director, Susan Bardo, this past October in partnership with the PA Bar Association’s Pro Bono Coordinator and the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section. The Clinic made wills for seven low-income seniors. “We wanted to do our part to support the work of a newly formed consortium of all law schools in PA to serve the legal needs of the elderly across the state—the Elder Law Consortium. We had 15 volunteer attorneys and 17 law students who participated.”