Law 730 - Vets Justice Clinic: Poverty, Homelessness & Criminalization

Wilbert H. Watts

Wilbert H. Watts

Co-Director, Veterans Legal Clinic
A.B. Georgetown University, 1996
J.D. Harvard Law School, 1999
Course Description:

The Poverty, Homelessness, and Criminalization Clinic provides critical legal services as part of a broad approach to addressing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. In a law office setting only 10 minutes from the UCLA School of Law, the live-client clinic provides direct representation and engages in legal advocacy to assist homeless/housing insecure and other vulnerable veterans. A significant number of individuals seeking our services are formerly incarcerated veterans or have on-going involvement in the criminal justice system. Through direct client representation and course seminar, students develop litigation and advocacy skills including factual investigation (similar to discovery and document review), legal research, motion and appellate brief writing, oral advocacy, hearing preparation, work with experts, and advanced interviewing and counseling (often using trauma-informed techniques). Students serve as legal advocates in administrative agency appeals and seek to clear criminal fines and fees accumulated from low level quality of life offenses. Through these legal services, students will assist veterans in obtaining housing and economic security and preventing re-incarceration. Students will also gain an understanding of the long-term consequences of interactions with the criminal justice system for their clients. Students enrolled in the clinic course may also assist veterans on landlord-tenant, immigration, police misconduct, and employment law matters.

Examples of Student Cases:

    Students are assisting a former prisoner, who currently is homeless, avoid garnishment of service-connected disability benefits due to thousands of dollars in alleged overpayments while in state prison.  Thus far, these efforts have contributed to the veteran successfully receiving approximately $69,000 in improperly withheld benefits.
    A student wrote and submitted briefs to court arguing a veteran’s traffic citations should be dismissed. After the student’s successful oral advocacy at arraignment, the court ruled in favor of our client, waived approximately $5,000 in fines and fees, recalled a warrant and placed him on a path toward restoration of his driving privileges.
    Students prepared and filed appeal briefs in support of a Korean War veteran’s claim for VA disability benefits related to his hearing loss, depression and Parkinson’s Disease, all of which developed because of his maintenance of aircraft and exposure to toxic substances in the line of duty.

General Information on Structure and Case Work:

    You will be “in the driver’s seat” of your cases with careful guidance from seasoned practitioners. This means you will write the briefs and perform oral advocacy in court or before administrative agencies.
    You will participate in intake and experience condensed fast-paced forms of legal assistance under the guidance of clinic supervisors.
    The seminar focuses on skills and the particular vulnerabilities of the homeless and veteran community (e.g. race, disability, trauma). You will gain lawyering skills transferable to any area of legal practice. and will be equipped with the ability to learn a new area of law. A complete set of learning objectives is available upon request.
    Students are grouped in teams of at least two for case work. Each team will be assigned a primary faculty supervisor with whom you will meet weekly for at least an hour outside of seminar. Your instructors will assist you to learn from your experiences through reflection and self-assessment.

The clinic will be offered on a 4, 5, or 6 unit basis. Students enrolling in 4 credits should expect to spend 10-12 hours on their field work (cases and/or projects).

Requisites: None (LLM students may apply and work on administrative appeals); however, for J.D. students seeking to be certified law students under Rule 9.42 of the California Rules of Court, both Law 145 Civil Procedure (pre-requisite) and Law 211 Evidence (co-requisite) are required.

Course Learning Outcomes:

  • develop litigation and advocacy skills including factual investigation (similar to discovery and document review), narrative story-telling, and working with experts
  • legal research and writing through motion practice and appellate brief writing
  • oral advocacy such as hearing preparation and advocacy with agency representatives
  • advanced interviewing and counseling (often using trauma-informed techniques)