Veterans Law Project: A Conversation with Equal Justice Works Fellow Scott A. Sloss
For six years, Thomson Reuters has partnered with Shearman & Sterling to fund fellowships through Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit organization that brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, legal services organizations, and supporters to promote public service and equal justice.
Scott A. Sloss is the fourth fellow this partnership has supported, and his two-year fellowship is the Veterans Law Project. Sloss is working with those who served by providing direct representation and access to legal services for veterans and their families.
His fellowship is hosted by the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, an area with more than 10,000 veterans, where the veteran homeless rate is around 10% and the unemployment rate is more than double the state average. He helps veterans with the many legal issues they face, including evictions, foreclosures, family law, consumer debt, discharge upgrades, and VA disability appeals claims.
Legal Current had an opportunity to talk with Sloss about his fellowship, and below is a recap of the conversation.
Legal Current: Why is it important to you to focus on veterans in your fellowship?
Sloss: My faith and service. To me they are one in the same. As I served in the army, I quickly realized that the best leaders were servant leaders. They were the ones who took care of their soldiers and their families while completing the mission. As my leadership developed in the army, I took on those same attributes. After serving 20 years, I knew in my heart that I could no longer commit 100% of myself to those I was serving and leading. To be honest, my last year in the army was the toughest of my career as I tried to figure out what I was going to do after faithfully serving my country. The more I tried to run away from veterans, the more I was reminded to always be you! I asked myself, why did you commit 20 years of your life to serving only to walk away now and not continue to serve? Being a veteran is special. Not everyone can commit to something greater than oneself. That is why serving veterans is so important to me in this fellowship. So many have given so much, and I just want to continue to do my part to serve those who have served.
LC: Just a few months into your fellowship, you’re already directly representing more than 20 clients. What have been the biggest challenges and most rewarding parts of your fellowship so far?
Sloss: The biggest challenge has been taking the theory of the law that I learned in law school and converting it into the practical application. There were not many law school classes teaching you how to draft complaints and divorce agreements. Fortunately, I am hosted by the University of Alabama School of Law, and I work in their clinic programs, where they offer seven other clinics. This makes resourcing templates and examples much easier.
The most rewarding parts of the fellowship are the veterans I get to help and the stories they share. For example, a client was an enlisted army military police soldier in the early 1970s. He is now living in subsidized housing and relying on social security. The client has a suspended license and was continuing to drive to the local soup kitchen for meals. Every few weeks he would get a ticket; I finally met him after his eighth offense. This client didn’t tell me why he was getting these tickets, but I was able to ask the right questions because I know what it is like to be a veteran and I know what it is like to go without food. I also serve at our local soup kitchen, where I remembered meeting this client on a prior occasion. By understanding that veterans don’t want to ask for help, using my life experiences, and being genuine with the client, we are now able to assist in getting him housing within the city limits, enrolled in a weekly food delivery program, and we developed a payment plan with the local court so that he may have money to pay for his basic monthly living expenses.
These types of stories happen weekly within the Veterans Law Project. It is these stories that I like to share so I can show everyone that you can make a difference as well. Sometimes just helping a client get their license back will change the trajectory of their future. Some of the biggest “wins” are the ones we will never see.
LC: What are your overall goals for your fellowship?
Sloss: I have five goals:
1) Transform this project into a fully funded legal clinic for veterans able to sustain and expand the services provided in Tuscaloosa County and West Alabama.
2) Establish a legal clinic for veterans through the use of a bimonthly legal help desk in the community.
3) Create a network of more than 15 attorneys to provide pro bono services.
4) Develop legal issue “playbooks” for the use of pro bono attorneys.
5) Teach, train, and mentor law students in performing legal services for veterans.
LC: Where do you see yourself after your fellowship?
Sloss: I see myself continuing to serve the veteran community. That is the answer to my why – why did I choose to become an attorney? With each career decision I make, I ask myself, does this opportunity fit with my why – serving the veteran community? If you are not answering the question of why you are choosing the path you’re on, you are simply chasing happiness and not the pure joy that fills your heart when you are doing what answers your why. Turn your vocation into your vacation, and you will never work another day in your life.
LC: What’s one thing you want lawyers to know about supporting veterans?
Sloss: Be you! Those two simple words have put my life into perspective. That is also the best advice I would give any lawyer when working with veterans or any person in general. At the core of every relationship, we have trust. Building trust happens in every engagement we have with a person. Our ability to build trust and to be trusted is directly related to our character. Our character is our legacy that will remain long after we are gone. That is why it is so important to be you. Be genuine, do not try and be something you are not.