The federal courts may shut down each Veterans Day, but law firms and the bar aren’t idle when it comes to tackling issues facing former and current military personnel and their families.
Dechert has joined a growing number of firms working to address topics important to military veterans, active-duty service members and reservists—including among their own ranks. Earlier this year the firm launched Dechert Heroes, an affinity group chaired by New York-based real estate partner Krystyna Blakeslee, a former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant who served in the Iraq War.
For Blakeslee, the challenges of closing commercial real estate finance transactions pale in comparison to her work in the transportation support battalion that handled logistics for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“Being in the military gives you not only just great leadership skills and a sense of a can-do attitude,” she said. “It’s a great benchmark in terms of comparing difficulties throughout the rest of my life and how things can measure up to how difficult things were.”
After enlisting in 1999 as a way to pay for her education and set out on her own, she spent four years in the Marines, then headed to college and law school after her discharge.
She said there are parallels between tracking personnel and equipment in the theater of operations and tracking the documents and parties needed for closing a real estate transaction.
“They all seem similar when you think about it from the 30,000-foot view,” she said.
At Dechert, she’s one of 28 members of the military affinity group, joined by 21 other lawyers and six business professionals. They include a disproportionate number of Marines—a coincidence Blakeslee can’t explain considering it’s the smallest branch of the armed services.
Other members include Hector Gonzalez, the firm’s deputy chair of diversity and inclusion, who is admitted to appear before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and Washington, D.C., litigator Christina Sarchio, who helped win agreements from more than 30 state authorities allowing lawyers married to members of the armed forces to practice law while a temporary resident.
In addition to supporting veterans and military families in the firm, Blakeslee expects the group to build on the firm’s existing pro bono work on behalf of veterans, which has included partnerships with national veterans groups Protect Our Defenders and the National Veterans Legal Services Program, along with regional associations such as the New York City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Program.
Along similar lines, the the American Bar Association recently established its own Military and Veterans Legal Center to consolidate efforts focused on legal services for military personnel, veterans and their families.
In a message in the ABA Journal earlier this week, ABA president Bob Carlson pointed to a recent survey showing that three of the top 10 unmet needs of homeless veterans require civil legal assistance. And he asked for lawyers across the profession to step up their efforts.
“The ABA works every day, through our entities, programs, and projects, to ensure that those currently or formerly serving in our armed services have access to legal services and receive the protections and benefits to which they are entitled,” he wrote. “Our success in this mission is entirely dependent on the involvement and support of the legal community.”