History of Veteran Legal Institute
The Veteran Legal Institute is a non-profit organization founded by two California lawyers with past military experience. The firm was founded three years ago. The organization provides think tanks and legal clinic services to current and retired veterans. Among the notable legal services it offers include VA claims, discharge upgrades, estate planning, expungements, and disability compensation (Veteran Legal Institute: Summary). These services are provided on a pro bon basis and are focused on low-income, disabled, homeless, and at-risk members. The legal representation services are aimed at eradicating barriers to decent educational, healthcare, housing, and employment needs. Over the years, the organization has expanded into fostering self-sufficiency skills among the low-income current and retired veterans (Veteran Legal Institute: Summary).
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The biggest accomplishment of the employees/volunteers in VLI is the creation of a systematic, organized, and self-sustaining network for providing services to veterans. The service charter has been organized into an accommodative and effective system for reaching out to low-income or at-risk veterans all over the US. The volunteers have been instrumental in mapping and offering successful legal services to different categories of veterans. Unlike before, the organization has contributed to the current paradigm shift in free legal service delivery. In addition, the think tank service has been integrated into a training or empowerment program to enlighten the veterans about their basic rights when processing claims or seeking government assistance in healthcare, education, or housing needs.
At the organizational level, the Veteran Legal Institute has created a database for legal representation that goes beyond the basic needs. At present, the organization has established a successful legal aid network that is accessible to all veterans. Through a policy-based approach, the VLI has been transformed into a formal organization with offices, employees, and structured legal clinic programs. In addition, the organization has developed relevant training programs for the employees and interns to make the legal aid services more effective and directional in solving the challenges facing many veterans. At present, the organization is able to serve at least 60 clients every week and has attracted different legal experts in the form of free labor. Thus, VLI has succeeded in raising the standards in the free legal aids by providing excellent legal services that are professional to directly benefit individual clients and the general veteran community.
Impact of VLI
The impact of VLI is measured by the number of assistance given to veterans who seek legal aid at the organization. Specifically, the impact is based on the number of accepted cases per week and successful petitions. Another measure is the flexibility in offering legal services. As a result, 90% of the veterans seeking legal aid are served by the company. The positive change associated with the organization is the creation of awareness among the veterans about their rights in order to create a doctrine of reforms to petition other agencies into making laws that support veterans. Another measure of the VLI impact is the number of volunteers who enroll for policy advocacy, outreach, and education services given to the veterans. The organization has access to more than a thousand legal volunteers who are able to serve at least 300 clients every month. The last measure of VLI impact is the magnitude of empowerment training programs and responses from the targeted population. These empowerment programs are carried out through publications and policy advocacy training. In the last three years, the organization has expanded to cover the entire veteran community. These impacts have been transformed into core values for measuring the effectiveness of different organizational performance matrices.
Composition of VLI Board
Being a military-specific organization that provides free legal aid to veterans, it is uniquely positioned to meet its objective since most of the staff members have military experience and an adverse understanding of the different foundational issues associated with veteran lifestyle. The board of management consists of 22 directors drawn from civilian and military professionals. The legal services are provided by the Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow appointed by the board. The composition of the board consists of financial, human resources, logistics, legal, research, and policy directors. There are regional managers below the directors. The board of directors is nominated from across the US and consists of accomplished personalities drawn from different professional careers.
The selection process is complex and involves a thorough background search to establish the interest and potential input of each proposed member of the board. The selection process also considers the availability of the proposed member since their services are not on a voluntary basis. The structure of the organization is simple and relatively lean. The board of directors helps the two founders in making policy decisions while the professional staff members are organized into different departments. This structure is concentrated on service delivery and has integrated the many volunteers and associate organizations VLI has partnered with. The organization has a consultative management strategy characterized by the direct participation of all stakeholders when providing services. This approach has boosted VLI’s scope in the provision of different services.
The primary challenge faced by VLI in terms of organizational management or governance is the voluntary approach, which is laden with minimal motivation. Since the service chart is based on a pro bono approach, that is, no charges, it is challenging to motivate the management team since their only reward is internal satisfaction for touching the lives of the veterans. Although most of the management or governance activities are carried out on a voluntary basis, human beings are more attracted to monetary or tangible benefits. The lack of salary or remuneration packages has reduced the number of hours volunteers dedicate to running the organization. This means that VLI has to contend with quorum issues when holding a strategic meeting with the board members, especially when such gatherings are organized on short notice. In addition, since most of the board members are employees in other organizations, their ability to attend meetings and perform their governance roles is pegged on the availability of time.
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Another challenge is the diverse organizational environment. Since most clients are walk-ins, making the decision on which case to accept or reject is a daunting task. Many veterans seeking legal aid are desperate war heroes who have been neglected by society and depend on very low pensions. Rejecting such an applicant for whatever reason is a hard decision to make. Although the organization has put in place strategies for processing the requests, the lack of adequate personnel is still a challenge. Again, the overdependence on voluntary legal services means that most of the volunteers serve the firm in their free time. Therefore, it is difficult to organize special projects on short notice. The management team has to seek quorum before any major assignment is allocated. The flexible nature of the voluntary-based services translates into a long duration per case.
The volunteers are engaged in all sectors of management and direct service delivery to the targeted clients. Some of the board members are volunteers. However, the majority of these service providers work at the client interaction level. The volunteers are actively involved in research, processing cases, providing think tank services, and following up on pending or completed files. The volunteer programs also facilitate periodic public legal clinic training and other empowerment programs targeting the general veteran community. However, the participation of the volunteers is limited to the execution of decisions made by the management. This means that a volunteer cannot make any decision on behalf of the organization. Since the volunteers are legal students or trained lawyers, they provide different legal aids that are relevant to their line of training. For instance, the trained volunteer attorneys actually represent most VLI clients in the courts of law. On the other hand, the interns assist in administrative duties and counseling services for the veterans in need of legal aid. In addition, the volunteer program facilitates stakeholder engagement, especially in sourcing funds and partnerships with different institutions.
The current mission of VLI is to provide pro bone legal aid to at-risk, disabled, homeless, and low-income veteran communities. These services are focused on eradicating barriers to healthcare, employment, housing, and education needs for the self-sufficiency of the veterans. The mission also covers training services in the form of policy advocacy and community education to increase resources, awareness, and overall protection of the interests of the current and former veterans.
In executing the mission, the organization function on the core values of outreach, quality, compassion, leadership, and empowerment. The outreach value brings the veteran community and general public through education, policy advocacy, and volunteerism. The compassion value addresses the emotional and social needs of the veterans through a systematic support system. The quality charter is angled on the provision of relevant, effective, and high-quality legal aid and advocacy. The leadership and empowerment values provide management and empowerment training to ensure that the publications, education, research, advocacy, and legal aid services meet the needs of the veterans.
The main revenue streams for VLI are from donations in the form of planned giving, periodic fund sourcing, mass solicitation, special events, and foundation or corporate grants. The organization has partners who consistently provide financial support to run the voluntary legal aid service charter. VLI also has an active online platform for sourcing funds through its website for mass solicitation from the public. Moreover, many foundations such as Gill and Melinda are major donors supporting the activities of VLI. The organization uses special events such as legal clinics and public awareness campaigns to appeal for financial support from private organizations, individuals, government institutions, and the general public. In addition, VLI produces a podcast highlighting its activities, plans, financial challenges and inviting voluntary partnerships with interested parties. This podcast directly appeals to millions of potential donors visiting the site. As a result, the organization has been able to raise substantial funds via its website. Due to these activities, the organization has steady financial stability.
The Veteran Legal Institute has been an active organization through its social entrepreneurship management platform by addressing the social and legal needs of the veterans. This direct support has a wider appeal to the general public, charitable organizations, regional and global foundations, and government agencies. VLI is viewed as that organization bridging the gap and supporting the war heroes who dedicated their lives to serve the interest of the US. Since the organization is only three years in the market, it has a long-term plan of using social entrepreneurship platforms to generate revenues. This plan will address social concerns through the direct empowerment of the general veteran community (current soldiers, retired soldiers, and their family members).
Competition and Opportunities
At present, there are not competitors since the organization is the first of its kind in the US. However, VLI faces secondary competition from government agencies and private law firms or charity organizations offering some of these services. The organization is focused on expanding its legal aid services across the US in the next ten years. The current growth opportunities include expansion into other uniform forces and recruitment of corporate volunteers. These opportunities will address the current challenges of limited market coverage and delays in service delivery.
The Veteran Legal Institute could consider partnering with established legal firms to guarantee consistency and efficiency in service delivery. These partnership deals could be organized into low-cost legal aid services and sold as corporate social responsibility motivators to the targeted organization. The quantifiable benefit associated with this recommendation includes consistency in processing claims since the attorneys draw from these organizations are motivated by the small service fee. Another recommendation is the expansion of fund generation activities. The organization could organize a series of fund drives to generate more revenues to execute the first recommendations. When properly executed, VLI will be able to recruit more volunteers and expand its market coverage.
Veteran Legal Institute: Summary. Veteran Legal Institute, 2018, Web.