Michael P. Allen, professor of law and director of the Veterans Law Institute at Stetson University College of Law, recently spoke to the National Association of Veterans’ Advocacy (NOVA). His presentation, titled “Ethical Foundations: Competence, Communication and Counseling,” centered on the basics required to pursue ethical legal advocacy for veterans. As Allen reiterated, the talk focuses “less on the complex issues of professionalism, and more on the fundamentals.” According to Allen, the fundamentals require the most attention for lawyers involved with the VA.
Allen identifies three core values that practicing veterans advocates must always practice and perfect: competence, communication, and counseling. “Simply put,” Allen states, “if a lawyer is not able to provide competent advice to a client, communicate that advice to a client, and counsel a client about the law, there is not much of a 'relationship' to which the more complex rules can apply.”
These “three C’s” are even more important within an industry that is characterized by complex law and high case volumes, Allen adds. Competence—staying on top of developments within veterans’ law—is central to managing the complexity and ensuring ethical advocacy. In a practice area that requires a high volume of cases in order to be economically viable for lawyers, Allen adds, advocates are challenged to maintain clear and consistent communication with their client.
The federal government has also made clear that it intends to increase the amount of lawyers working within the VA benefits system. As this practice area continues to grow, Allen reminds us that all veterans advocates must maintain these three core pillars. While most lawyers exude these core professional values, the few who do not continue to reflect poorly on the entire profession. “All advocates, in some measure,” Allen reiterates, “sink or swim together.”
This talk is well timed and should act as an important reminder to all veterans advocates of the core tenets of their practice. We certainly strive for ethical perfection in our firm—may all VA advocates work towards these same goals. Putting the veteran first is key and an advocate cannot do that without competence, communication, and counseling.