Spotlight on service
When Stephen Lessard enrolled at Texas A&M on an
ROTC scholarship in 1980, his plan was to graduate with
a political science degree, serve his four years in the Navy
and then attend law school. But Lessard liked the Navy. So
much so that it was 18 years before he made it to George-
town Law—and even then he found a way to mesh the law
with his love of the armed services.
Lessard did an internship with the Servicemembers Le-
gal Defense Network, primarily advising service members
about their rights under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy
prohibiting homosexual and bisexual military personnel
from disclosing their sexual orientation.
“People who really felt that they had nowhere else to turn
could turn to us and get some answers,” says Lessard, 54.
The work was also personal.
“I am gay. I lived in the military under ‘don’t ask, don’t
In 2010, Lessard helped establish the New York County
tell’ and felt like I wanted to be able to help individuals in
the same situation I was in,” says Lessard. “I’ve always had
an affinity for causes for the LGBT community and an affin-
ity for causes for veterans in general. Being able to marry
those two has been nice.”
Lessard is now a senior associate in the tax group at Or-
rick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where he does about 200 hours
of pro bono work per year. He was recently honored for that
work with a 2016 President’s Pro Bono Service Award from
the New York State Bar Association.
Lawyers’ Association’s U.S. Tax Court Calendar Call Pro
Bono Program; it helps New Yorkers who cannot afford
counsel represent themselves before the U.S. Tax Court.
The first program of its kind, it has served as a model for
others throughout the country.
He’s also represented transgender veterans who want
to change their discharge certificates to match their
name changes, and he assists veterans who are trying to
upgrade less-than-honorable discharges—arguing that
they had undiagnosed PTSD and other traumas—so they
can get full benefits.
One of these clients is Kristofer Goldsmith, a soldier
who, as a 19-year-old, was tasked with documenting mass
graves in Iraq. That led to drinking. When he returned
to the U.S., and his period of enlistment was completed,
Goldsmith was stop-lossed and his unit ordered to return
to Iraq. When he attempted suicide, he was discharged
from the Army and he’s been fighting to upgrade the
characterization of that discharge, as well as the narrative
of separation, ever since.
18-year Navy vet Stephen Lessard reps soldiers with LGBT matters and PTSD issues
BY LISA ARMSTRONG
Goldsmith says his experience in the Army made him
distrustful of officers, so he was wary when he met Lessard.
“But Steve was a different kind of officer,” says Gold-
He says work like this makes him feel he’s fulfilling his
smith. “He’s a humanitarian. Instead of viewing me as
disposable, as I think the officers in my own unit did, it’s
obvious he cares for others.”
Though Goldsmith’s initial petition and two appeals to
get an upgrade were denied, Lessard is working on another
appeal. Seeing how many service members were showing
up to upgrade hearings without legal representation also
prompted Lessard to train other lawyers to represent them.
purpose as a lawyer.
“There’s personal satisfaction, but there’s also a debt
that I feel is owed by the profession to the community that
allows it to flourish,” says Lessard. “It’s a similar commit-
ment to country through service in the military.”
Lessard’s Pro Bono Projects
Lessard feels pro bono is a professional
duty as well as incredibly rewarding.
“You’re helping individuals who,
generally, have nowhere else to turn and
are incredibly appreciative of anything we
do for them,” he says.
New York County Lawyers’ Association
U.S. Tax Court Calendar Call Program
212-267-6646, ext. 217
Urban Justice Center
Veterans Advocacy Project
Military Discharge Upgrade Program
New York Legal Assistance Group
LGBT Law Project