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Clinic Director’s Report

By Robert Nassau, Associate Director, Office of Clinical Legal Education; Director, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic; and Teaching Professor

Robert Nassau
Robert Nassau

Except for two weeks at the start of the spring semester, things were pretty much back to normal in the Office of Clinical Legal Education during the 2021–2022 academic year . . . although it’s probably more accurate to say: “back to a new normal.”

While in-person meetings between Student Attorneys, Clinic Directors, and clients resumed, Zoom meetings and hearings are certainly not a thing of the past and will likely remain prevalent moving forward. It’s hard to imagine what current legal practice would look like if the pandemic had not occurred, although it likely just accelerated a move to more online, hybrid, and remote work—something our Student Attorneys gained experience doing throughout the year.

Below are brief summaries of some of the amazing work performed by our Student Attorneys and Clinic Directors during the past academic year. These summaries are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for all that we have accomplished. To repeat what I wrote last year: while the pandemic has created significant obstacles, it also provided teachable moments and learning opportunities that will better prepare our Student Attorneys for legal practice in a post-pandemic world.

CLINIC REPORTS

Bankruptcy Clinic

Director: Adjunct Professor Lee E. Woodard

The Bankruptcy Clinic had a successful and busy year with a Student Attorney enrollment of ten new students (plus one or two returning Clinic II students) each semester. The Clinic filed between 20 and 30 Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions for clients. Several Student Attorneys obtained 2022 Summer Clerkships in the Bankruptcy Departments of “Big Law” firms, and one of our former Student Attorneys became a confidential law clerk to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge for the Utica Division of the Northern District of New York.

Clinic students are rewarded by helping their clients get a new post-bankruptcy start in their lives. Between inflation and the end of COVID stimulus funds, bankruptcy cases will continue to be on the rise for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the Bankruptcy Clinic will continue to be a needed and valuable resource in our community.

Fall 2021 Clinic Student Attorney Swearing-in ceremony
Fall 2021 Clinic Student Attorney Swearing-in ceremony

Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic

Executive Director: Professor Elizabeth Kubala

The Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC) provides representation for veterans and their families who are either seeking benefits from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) or upgrading a military discharge.

Student Attorneys in the VLC performed a broad array of administrative actions and court appeals to challenge wrongful denials of federal veterans’ benefits. The students adapted to the VA’s new tele-hearing format and regularly appeared with their clients before Veterans Law Judges at the Board of Veterans Appeals. Appeals to the Board involved issues. Students collaborated to practice before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims on cases dealing with a veteran’s chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as a deceased veteran’s claim for asbestos exposure that his widow is continuing to pursue on his behalf Finally, Student Attorneys are practicing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on behalf of a widow who has been denied the military’s survivor benefit plan.

Over the past year, Student Attorneys in the VLC embraced new and innovative ways to best serve our community’s veterans. In the fall of 2021, the Office of Clinical Education migrated its law practice management system to a new cloud-based legal platform that provides students direct experience with industry-leading law practice management technology. Our students are getting hands-on experience managing the daily tasks of running a law firm and technical experience in matter management, timekeeping, and management skills that provide them a competitive edge for their future legal careers.

The VLC remains engaged with the local community. As part of the Central New York Veterans Parade and Expo, Student Attorneys from the VLC teamed up with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of CNY for Valor Day at the New York State Fairgrounds where Clinic students and local attorneys provided free legal consultations for veterans and their family members as part of our area’s Veterans Day events.

The VLC joined SyracuseServes this year, an initiative of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. In collaboration with the City of Syracuse, the SyracuseServes network connects veterans and their families to local community providers to ensure that care, resources, and services are easily and successfully navigable. Student Attorneys in the VLC are trained to identify veteran clients who require resources beyond the legal services we provide. The VLC then refers those veterans to SyracuseServes for efficient and timely support.

Events like Law Alumni Weekend strengthen connections between the VLC and our alumni. In 2021, the VLC hosted an event titled “Serving Veterans at the College of Law and in the Community.” Current VLC students shared clinic and Syracuse University-wide updates and impact with our alumni. The oldest living College of Law alumnus and WWII and Korean War-era veteran, Robert Gang L’42, 104, was recognized in front of current faculty, alumni, students, and honored guests

Rising 3Ls Ryan Carson, Domenica “Sunny” Lostritto, and Abigail Gorzlancyk attended the U.S. Court of Veteran Appeals 15th Judicial Conference.
Rising 3Ls Ryan Carson, Domenica “Sunny” Lostritto, and Abigail Gorzlancyk
 attended the U.S. Court of Veteran Appeals 15th Judicial Conference.

Wrapping up the year, three students from the VLC traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims 15th Judicial Conference. Students gleaned valuable insights into new developments in Veterans Law from judges, government attorneys, private practitioners, and public officials. A highlight of the conference was hearing from Senator Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough who addressed attendees and answered questions. All three students who attended the Conference have internships this summer in the field of veteran law.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinic

Director: Professor Robert Nassau

The operative word this year in the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC), for both Student Attorneys and our clients, has been “patience.” As the media have accurately reported, anything involving the Internal Revenue Service or the United States Tax Court takes a very long time to reach a resolution. It can easily take a year for the IRS to review an Amended Return, a taxpayer’s response to an Audit Letter, or a Petition filed with the Tax Court. Hopefully, these timelines will improve soon.

In the meantime, the Student Attorneys of the LITC continue their work as the “Public Defenders of Tax.” Among the many tax controversies that LITC Student Attorneys helped resolve this year were those involving: the earned income tax credit and other child-based tax benefits; stimulus payments; identity theft; innocent spouse relief; and collection alternatives. Perhaps most notably, LITC Student Attorneys obtained a client’s proper New York State tax refund, after a hearing in the Bureau of Conciliation and Mediation Services; and successfully resolved a long-running Tax Court case involving the proper tax treatment of a post-bankruptcy deed in lieu of foreclosure.

Transactional Law Clinic

Director: Professor Jessica Murray

The Transactional Law Clinic (TLC) has been working with many clients in food-related businesses who are interested in protecting their brands with a U.S. or New York State trademark registration. (It is probably not a coincidence that Clinic Director Jessica Murray loves food and cooking.) Clinic trademark clients have included entrepreneurs with pudding, taco, pasta sauce, olive oil, and vegan cheese businesses.

With the involvement of Student Attorneys during four successive academic years, the TLC successfully registered two trademarks for The Shuga Pie Shop (name used with permission), a bakery that sells exclusively what they call “cake sandwiches,” delicious sandwiches made of two circles of cake with frosting between them, in many creative flavors.

One of the many benefits of being back in person: this year’s Student Attorneys were able to celebrate their work when The Shuga Pie Shop provided samples for the class. Services provided by the TLC to The Shuga Pie Shop included submitting trademark applications and responding to several Office Actions, resulting in successful registration of the marks.

The TLC participates in the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Law School Certification Program. As part of that program, representatives of the USPTO visited the TLC and the College of Law’s Intellectual Property Law Society—via Zoom—to discuss the work of the USPTO and careers there.

The TLC also worked with numerous clients who were starting not-for-profit organizations and non-food-related businesses, providing such services as incorporating, dissolving, forming LLCs, obtaining federal and state tax exemptions, counseling about intellectual property rights and protection, and drafting various types of agreements. ■