Hunton & Williams

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Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
27
Hunton & Williams (39)
81.5
82.2
80.8

 

Robert Barrett is a self-proclaimed thorn in the side of the Army. The Hunton & Williams associate and Iraq war veteran has been working for the past two years with the National Veterans Legal Services Program to help veterans of past wars, as well as returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, obtain all of the disability benefits that they are entitled to receive.

Am Law Pro Bono 100"I love the Army, but it's a bureaucratic organization that you have to hit with a big stick to institute change," says Barrett, who graduated from West Point in 1999 and was with the Marines when they invaded Iraq in 2003. "I'm trying to make it a better service organization."

To that end, Barrett has been heading a Hunton initiative to represent veterans who are appealing their disability ratings with the Board of Veteran Appeals. The NVLSP vets the candidates to make sure that they have meritorious claims and then passes their case on to a participating law firm. (Other firms that have worked with the organization include Sidley Austin, Arnold & Porter, and McDermott Will & Emery.) Barrett says Hunton dedicated 2,200 hours to this project in 2008, with 55 lawyers scattered across the firm's offices bringing 18 cases before the board.

Initially, most of the appeals came from veterans who had served in Vietnam, Korea, or Desert Storm, but now, says Barrett, the majority of cases are for soldiers still on active duty. A new program meant to handle the influx of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, called Lawyers Serving Warriors, gets lawyers involved in the process early on and focuses on trying to obtain concurrent disability ratings for the soldier both from his or her particular service organization and from the VA. "We're reviewing the medical file before the soldier submits to the service and to the VA and trying to help them develop their record and ask the right questions," says Barrett. "We want them to get the best possible disability rating."

A recent case involved an active duty soldier who had returned from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing repeated shelling and mortar attacks, as well as suffering hearing loss and brain injuries from roadside improvised explosive devices. "Those blasts are huge, I can tell you," says Barrett. "Your body is not meant to go through that." Though PTSD has received more attention lately, Barrett says the VA is still leery about giving disability ratings to veterans who claim the disorder because it is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Despite that obstacle, a team of three Hunton lawyers signed up to take the case. After a Christmastime hearing before the board, the lawyers were able to secure a 90 percent disability rating and get the soldier medically retired from the Army.

"It was a huge win for the veteran," says Barrett, who adds that he's planning on setting the bar even higher this year. "I'm aiming for 3,000 hours."

—Francesca Heintz | July 1, 2009

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