Cooley's program for soldiers expands to Fla.

It's a common scenario throughout Florida: young men and women return home from active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan or another country,welcomed by friends and families cheering loudly. Unbeknownst to many, however, are less desirable greetings of non-military legal issues ranging from child custody concerns to housing rental disputes.

It's a difficult situation for these servicemen and women who are often left to untangle and resolve these new battles on their own.

That's changing soon, thanks to the expansion of Service to Soldiers: Legal Assistance Referral Program to Florida and the increased efforts of the American Bar Association's Military Pro Bono Project.

Both programs offer referrals to appropriate local, pro bono attorneys to assist military members of E6 rank and below in resolving civilian legal issues. Since its inception in 2007, Service to Soldiers: Legal Assistance Referral Program has helped more than1800 Michigan service men and women.

As these programs expand throughout Florida, Cooley Law School, the American Bar Association's Military Pro Bono Project and the Hillsborough County Bar Association (HCBA) are joining together to offer a complimentary training program aimed at preparing local attorneys to represent members of the military.

The February 17 "Basic Training" session will cover the nuances of representing military clients, including estate planning, family law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA). Organizers will also share opportunities with attendees for supporting low-income military members and families through Pro Bono service with these unique programs.

"Servicemen and women returning from or leaving for active duty are often faced with legal concerns, including housing contracts, custody issues and estate planning," explained Col. John Odom, formerly with the Pentagon's Office of Legal Policy, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "This special program will help local attorneys gain a broader knowledge of some of the ins and outs involved in representing Florida's soldiers."

Added Heather Spielmaker, Cooley's director of ethics, service, and professionalism, "If we can help ease the transition back home for our service men and women, it's all worth it. It is the least that we can do for them."

The free training session, which is approved for five CLE credits by The Florida Bar, will be held at the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center, 1610 N. Tampa St., from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a mixer to follow at Mangroves Soho Boutique Restaurant. Please RSVP by Jan. 31 at cooley.edu/probono, email or contact Heather Spielmaker at Cooley Law School at spielmah@cooley.edu or call (517) 371-5140, ext. 4112.

Published: Thu, Jan 20, 2011

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