Burke J.D. ’15 Receives 2015 Thurgood Marshall Award at Graduation

  • Commitment to Public Service
    Commitment to Public Service  The W&M Law School Association awards the Thurgood Marshall Award each year to a member of the graduating class who exhibits the ideals of, and commitment to, distinguished public service. Dean Douglas presented the award this year to William A. Burke J.D. '15.  Photo by Gretchen Bedell
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During William & Mary Law School’s Diploma Ceremony on May 17, Dean Davison M. Douglas presented William A. M. Burke J.D. ’15 with the Thurgood Marshall Award.

The Law School Association bestows the honor each year to a member of the graduating class who exhibits the ideals of, and commitment to, distinguished public service as exemplified by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908-93).

After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, Burke spent 11 years as a Naval Aviator. During that time, he served in a variety of roles around the world, including as a helicopter aircraft commander and mission commander, Navy ROTC instructor, and staff officer. He deployed overseas five times, including one year in Baghdad, Iraq, one afloat deployment to Haiti, and three afloat deployments to the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Burke received the Thurgood Marshall Award for his legal work on behalf of veterans with disabilities through the Law School’s Lewis B. Puller, Jr., Veterans Benefits Clinic. Under attorney supervision, the clinic offers students the opportunity to interview clients, analyze medical records, communicate with health care providers, and craft strategies to help clients receive disability compensation. Burke excelled in all of these activities.

“Bill spent a full year working for the Veterans Benefits Clinic, helping veterans with disabilities with their cases,” Douglas said. “He also filed two cases with the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, an expansion of existing clinic services.”

Douglas described how Burke also served as an important, articulate voice for the Veterans Benefits Clinic with various external constituencies, including video, radio, and publishing outlets, and in meetings with critical stakeholders. He also praised Burke for helping the clinic strengthen its ties with the veteran community.

During the 2014-15 academic year, Burke devoted more than 100 hours of client work amounting to a fair market value in excess of $10,000 in pro bono legal services provided to veteran clients. He also volunteered many additional hours to assist other students with their cases by applying his naval experience to understanding client goals and developing case strategies.

Burke also mentored a team of students new to the area of veterans’ law, and managed to juggle his outstanding work for the clinic with his other law school demands, while still graduating in the top ten percent of his class.

The day prior to receiving the Thurgood Marshall Award, Burke received the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Outstanding Student Award for William & Mary during the Law School’s awards ceremony held at the Kimball Theatre. The CLEA Award is given annually to a student who excelled in representation of individual clients, as well as in participation in the seminar component of the clinic, as demonstrated by the quality of the student's thoughtfulness and self-reflection in exploring the legal, ethical, strategic, and policy issues raised in the Puller Clinic.

After graduation, Burke will practice law in Norfolk, Va., and plans to continue to do pro bono work on behalf of veterans with disabilities.  

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.