Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) General Counsel James M. Byrne visited William & Mary Law School on Tuesday, April 3 to address the combined classes of the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic. A Marine veteran himself, Byrne spoke about his military and legal career and how he came to the post.
Byrne stressed the rewards of government service and the importance of being flexible in whatever job you land in, “blossoming where you’re planted.”
Byrne brought with him Deputy General Counsel for Legal Policy Richard Hipolit, and Lara Eilhardt of the Benefits Law Group, each of whom also spoke to the students about government service as lawyers and about the department. Also accompanying the VA’s chief lawyer were several William & Mary Law alumni who now work in the General Counsel’s office: Ken Walsh ’00, Alexa Roggenkamp ’13, Mark Villapando ’12 and Sarah Blackadar ’16.
After the formal class session the visitors stayed and chatted informally for a couple of hours with Puller Clinic faculty Dave Boelzner, Elizabeth Tarloski and Caleb Stone ’15, as well as Dean Davison M. Douglas and Vice Dean Patricia Roberts. Also participating in the session was Paul Hutter, former General Counsel of VA, adjunct professor at William & Mary, and a current member of the Puller Clinic’s advisory board, who helped arrange the visit.
In his eight months on the job, Byrne has been extraordinarily supportive of law school clinics serving veterans. The VA recently recognized the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium as an official Veteran Service Organization, entitling the clinics to inclusion in major policy discussions at VA (along with such organizations as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, etc.). Eilhardt serves as the liaison with the clinics.
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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.