Legacy of Service Continues for Student Veterans at UVA Law

Student veterans seated at a table speak with other students, standing.

For Veterans Day, members of Virginia Law Veterans are raising awareness of the holiday in Hunton & Williams Hall.

November 11, 2014

An Arabic linguist, an intelligence officer and a combat engineer are just a few of the past lives of students in Virginia Law Veterans, an organization dedicated to serving the veteran community at the University of Virginia School of Law and beyond.

For Veterans Day, the group's members will raise awareness of the holiday and commemorate those who have served while handing out bagels and candy in the Law School's Hunton & Williams Hall.

More than 30 members strong, the group offers resources and support for veterans, raises awareness of legal issues facing veterans and provides pro bono legal support for them. Events like their annual 5K run, which typically attracts close to 100 participants, also help the group raise funds to support charities that benefit veterans or service members.

At the Law School, the Virginia Law Veterans have sponsored guest speakers to talk about issues such as the law of war, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and veterans' benefits.

Ryan Pavel
Ryan Pavel

The group's student members are making a difference on their own, too.

First-year law student Ryan Pavel of Deer Park, Illinois, worked with Teach for America in Detroit after completing his undergraduate degree in international studies at the University of Michigan.

Pavel, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps as an Arabic linguist and completed two tours in Iraq's Anbar province, also set up the Warrior-Scholar Project at University of Michigan after graduating. The Warrior-Scholar Project is an academic boot camp that helps prepare veterans for college.

"I see law as a way to continue in public service and make a lasting impact," Pavel said.

Third-year law student Ariel Dean, a Washington, D.C., native who served as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, also cited public service as a reason for pursuing law.

"I want to continue serving the public and help to protect the ideals of our society," Dean said.

Ariel Dean
Ariel Dean

Dean works as executive editor of the Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, and is a member of the Black Law Students Association, the National Trial Advocacy Team and the Prosecution Clinic.

A defense consultant before coming to UVA Law, Dean still finds other ways to serve: as an election monitor, by working for the Virginia Attorney General's office and by participating in the Public Interest Law Association alternative spring break.

"The whole group is very standout — it's really a community of individuals that get close because of a shared background," Virginia Law Veterans president Adam Johnson said.

Johnson, of Branson, Missouri, served in the Army National Guard as a combat engineer and did small arms and artillery repair. "I knew from the time I started my bachelor's degree that I was going to be going to law school," he said.

Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson

Johnson said his service prepared him for law school by giving him leadership and work experience in stressful situations. At school he's a member of the Rex E. Lee Law Society and participates in the John W. Glynn, Jr. Law & Business Program.

Johnson said he plans to practice transactional law, mostly with emerging and developing countries.

In each of the last two years, Virginia Law Veterans has increased its membership, which includes veterans, dependents and spouses, Johnson said, and the group has become more active. Students look out for fellow members, for example by ensuring they have a place to go during the upcoming holiday season.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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