Where He Wants to Be: Michael Dick ’06 Returns to Serve and Teach through the Veterans Benefits Clinic
Michael Dick ’06 has retired twice—first after a long and distinguished career as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, and then after a dozen years with the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. In both instances, he sought out challenging ways to make use of his experiences and interest in military and legal matters, and to satisfy his strong desire to serve.
More recently, he renewed that search and found what he was looking for at William & Mary Law School.
Dick, currently a Visiting Professor of the Practice and Co-Director of William & Mary’s Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, remembers how, in October 1983, he considered separating from the Marine Corps. Pondering future paths, he visited Williamsburg while on vacation and interviewed with William B. Spong, Jr., former U.S. Senator from Virginia and Dean of William & Mary Law School from 1976 to 1985.
“Law school had always been on my mind, but right after that visit I was deployed and wound up in Grenada and Beirut, and my career just kept cracking along very smartly, so I stayed in,” Dick explains. “But I always thought about law school, and William & Mary was high on my list.”
All told, Dick spent more than 26 years on active duty in the Marine Corps, largely as an infantry officer. He served in various U.S. and NATO staff positions involving unilateral, multi-national, and inter-agency coordination responsibilities, including assignments as a rifle company commander, Marine Expeditionary Unit Operations Officer, infantry battalion commander, and NATO Senior Staff Officer at NATO HQ in Brussels, Belgium.
With almost eight years of overseas service, his assignments included numerous leadership positions involving operations in such places as Lebanon, Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia and Liberia. His final active duty assignment was as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations, Plans, Training) for the 2nd Marine Division, where he served as the principal advisor to Division Commander on the operational employment of the 16,000-member Division. In addition, he is a graduate of the USMC Command and Staff College, USMC School of Advanced Warfighting, and the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy.
Upon retirement from the military, Dick’s thoughts once again turned to William & Mary, where his younger brother had received undergraduate and MBA degrees. A meeting with Law Dean Taylor Reveley (1998-2008) was all he needed to make a firm decision.
“I came away from that conversation thinking, well, if they’re all like Dean Reveley this is where I want to be,” Dick says. “And when I got there as a student, it was exactly that.”
Like many first-year law students, Dick’s interests ranged across the legal spectrum, and he found all his classes and professors interesting. But it was his next-to-last tour at NATO Headquarters in Brussels that helped focus his interests on a world-wide scale.
“That experience exposed me to an international law perspective, particularly from the national security angle,” Dick says. “I was really interested in it, and so I took a lot of Christie Warren’s courses on the international side, as well as Linda Malone’s class, and enjoyed it.”
After law school, Dick joined the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) via the Attorney General’s Honors Program and served with the Office of Intelligence, a component of DOJ’s National Security Division, where his responsibilities involved representing the U.S. Government before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain authorization for sensitive intelligence operations involving national security, terrorism and counterintelligence issues.
In 2014, Dick joined the Office of International Affairs (OIA) in the Criminal Division of DOJ, where he handled casework involving international extradition and mutual legal assistance matters. He then led a team of attorneys and support personnel that focused on analyzing strategic issues involving complex matters of significant concern to the Director of OIA.
His last assignment at OIA was as the Associate Director for Policy, Legislation, and Multilateral Affairs. In this role, he supervised a team of attorneys and support personnel in addressing challenging policy issues, to include national security matters; OIA/DOJ participation in multi-national organizations targeting transnational organized crime; supporting international anticorruption efforts; cyber/technology issues; reviewing proposed U.S. legislation; and served as OIA Counterterrorism Coordinator.
After a dozen years in Washington, D.C., which he notes was his longest stint in one place since high school, Dick looked to move on once again. He had been appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Virginia Board of Veterans Services, which he now serves as Chairman, and through this experience become more aware of veteran-related issues and the challenges that some veterans have in being awarded compensation for service-connected disabilities.
And so in 2019, when he heard that William & Mary’s Puller Clinic was anticipating a vacancy, Dick signed up for another tour of duty.
“When I graduated in 2006, clinics were not a big thing, but they have become a huge and important part of legal education across the country,” Dick says. “William & Mary has really embraced them in a great way.”
The bulk of applications for disability benefits before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are usually dealt with in three or four months. But Dick says that about 20 percent of cases take years—sometimes up to a dozen years—and veterans are often dependent on the outcome of the case for their quality of life.
“The cases we take on at the Puller Clinic are complex cases that cannot be solved very easily, where the VA often wants to make the right decision, but the evidence from the VA’s perspective doesn’t support the position that we take up,” Dick says.
In addition to helping veterans, Dick praises the clinical education process for helping law students learn their craft, and he works to imbue them with a sense of what military culture is like.
“There are two dimensions to the process,” Dick explains. “Providing pro bono support to veterans in need exposes students to the challenges that veterans have gone through, and, of course, allows students to develop professional skills that will greatly improve the quality of service they provide to their clients. I think it’s a win-win situation for the veteran and for the law students because it really brings in the human dimension—something that’s done in all of our clinics—but the Puller Clinic in particular.”
Dick considers that human dimension critical in developing what he terms “a lawyer’s professional tool kit”—a mindset through which practitioners approach clients and understand the challenges they face.
“You can be smart as a whip, and you can know all the all the answers in the book,” Dick says, “but if you cannot interact effectively with the client or opposing counsel, not to mention a judge, you’re not going to be an effective lawyer.”
Dick truly appreciates the clinic’s many successes in getting compensation for clients, but he considers the best part of his job working with the students.
“I really enjoy the interaction and getting to know the students, learning about why they wanted to take this clinic and what they seek to get out of it,” he says. “I just hope in some small way I’m able to contribute to their accomplishment of that objective.”
He’s certainly been doing just that, even during the COVID-19 pandemic where personal interaction has been replaced with online meetings, classes and office hours.
“There’s nothing that can replace that in-person touch, but it’s the hand we’re dealt, and we have to make the most of it the best we can,” Dick says. “We can’t meet physically with clients or hold Military Mondays sessions in person, but other than that we’re able to do a lot of the same things except, of course, having students pop into your office with questions or to discuss a case.”
Always looking to the future, Dick continues to think of ways to improve the already strong clinical experience for Puller students. And that includes bringing a broader view of different veteran experiences. He would like to have veterans talk to his classes about their experiences and possibly bring his students to military bases in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.
Although legal education has changed since he was a student, particularly with emphasis on experiential learning and technology, Dick says his latest station in life feels like home. And he appreciates the one thing that never changes at William & Mary Law School.
“I'm sitting in a different place today in front of the class, but the camaraderie, the collegiality among the students, actually flows down from the staff and faculty, and their attitudes toward students,” Dick says.
"I also see students’ willingness to help each other, no matter the challenges, and that’s one thing that stuck out when I was a student here.”
About William & Mary Law School
Legal education in a university setting began at William & Mary in 1779. Now in its third century, America's first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.