UB School of Law’s newest student group takes to heart the special interests of military members and veterans—and is looking to raise awareness of careers in the armed forces’ justice system.
The Military Law and Veterans Association, formed this semester, is building on its initial meetings and making plans for the rest of the year. The goal, they say, is both to support students who have military experience and to educate law students on career paths in military law.
“I approach the group as a place for military veterans and people currently serving in the military to have a place in the law school,” says Jonathan Whyte, a second-year UB Law student and Navy veteran who heads the new group. “There are many challenges we face, and this is a place for veterans to get together, to learn who we are, to help each other out and help each other succeed in law school.”
Whyte, a Western New York native, served in the Navy in San Diego and on combat deployments. After his military service, he worked as a deputy Erie County sheriff, then earned his bachelor’s degree at UB with the help of GI Bill benefits, before entering law school.
The group’s initial gatherings, he says, have attracted students keenly focused on entering the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in one of the military branches, alongside those merely considering the possibility. The JAG Corps are renowned for providing high-quality legal representation to soldiers, sailors and airmen facing charges under the military justice system, and for prosecuting cases in that system.
More informally, Whyte has crossed paths with fellow veterans through the university’s Office of Veteran Services, promoting the possibility of law school for undecided undergraduates.
The Military Law and Veterans Association is working on programming for the spring semester. One plan is for a panel discussion with JAG Corps officers from the different military branches on what life is like for a JAG attorney, and how one might apply for and win that job. Whyte is also hoping to connect with military veterans who are doing other kinds of work in the Buffalo legal market, to show students the range of possibilities that exist.
He says UB Law’s status as the state’s only public law school and its affordable tuition could attract veterans as students, because GI Bill benefits come with a cap on tuition assistance.
The group’s faculty adviser, Professor David Coombs, is new to UB Law but brings a wealth of experience in the military justice arena. Before entering academia, he had a distinguished 21-year career in the Army’s JAG Corps, first as a prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. He was recently appointed a Fellow of the National Institute of Military Justice, the nation’s premier organization devoted to studying and improving the military justice system.
“I view the Military Law and Veterans Association as an organization committed to fostering a deeper understanding of military and veteran legal issues,” Coombs says. “Our primary objective is to raise awareness of the diverse career opportunities available as a judge advocate within the military, while also providing insights into the intricacies of military law.”
Toward that end, he says, he’s working with the group to invite various military appellate courts to hear oral arguments at the law school. Coombs is also encouraging the student group to build partnerships with local ROTC and veterans organizations to sensitize them to common issues faced by veterans and build their professional networks.