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Douglas Berinstein ’20 is combining his military background and legal training as Albany Law School’s first Veterans Rights Summer Fellow.
Berinstein will receive a $6,000 stipend to work at least 10 weeks in an otherwise unpaid position building skills to secure and advance the rights of veterans. He is fulfilling the fellowship at Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, in the general counsel’s office of the North Atlantic District of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s with Veterans Affairs, it’s nearby, I’m military—it all works,” he said.
Berinstein will mostly be assisting on employment law actions against the VA. “A lot of the employees are veterans,” he said. “The feeling is, we want to do right by the client, which is the VA. But if there is a legitimate issue, then we will make sure that the claimant is fairly treated.”
The Veterans Rights Summer Fellowship was made possible by the Office of Pro Bono Programs, part of the
Law Clinic and Justice Center. The fellowship is part of a $150,000 grant from the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to expand
the law school’s pro bono work for veterans.
“While veterans, service members, and their families often receive excellent services from the government, there are many instances where lawyers and law students can assist and make the transition from service to civilian life smoother,” said Professor Edward W. De Barbieri, who directs the
ProBono Program. “On campus, our student-led Veterans Rights Pro Bono Project and the Student Alumni Veterans’ Association are key groups in designing and coordinating the delivery of legal support to veterans and service members in need, in collaboration with our numerous community partners.”
Berinstein is a 13-year veteran—nine of which were active duty—with the Army National Guard. He has served in a variety of leadership and staff positions at home and abroad, including as second in command of his company during a yearlong deployment in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
After returning home, the Capital Region native began thinking about a new career path to support his family. At the suggestion of a friend, he started looking into Albany Law School, and learned that the Post-9/11 GI Bill made it a financially attractive option.
“I thought: ‘What is a lawyer?’ It’s a profession that not anyone can do—you have to earn it. It’s a profession that everyone will need access to at some point in their lives,” Berinstein said. “I know that through the military, I can lead. I can manage. I’m confident in my ability to learn. It started making sense.”
Berinstein said one of the highlights of his 1L year was
VeteransLaw Day, during which he had a chance to sit in on some of the 50 free attorney consultations organized by the Pro Bono Program. “These veterans were coming in with real problems—family law, employment issues, those kinds of things. Knowing that there are real solutions, and that I could one day help people in this way, was really exciting,” he said. “Seeing how I can apply what I’m learning in class was an eye-opening experience.”
As for the future, Berinstein is keeping his options open.
“I’m married with kids and a mortgage. That’s my job,” he said. “Because of my time in the military, I find that I can enjoy anything that I do, as long as I’m engaged. So I figure if my legal career is anything like law school, I’ll have no problem.”
Berinstein is a graduate of New England College, where he studied political science.