Two University of Georgia law students are spending their summer working on cases at Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, P.C. (BBGA), each with their own story and carving their own path to success.
Tyler Mathis is a first-generation college graduate who is passionate about interacting with and helping people. So much in fact, he turned down a paid internship the summer after his first year in law school to instead work for free at The Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC), which serves Georgia veterans and helps them get the benefits they’ve earned through their military service.
Tyler also helped to establish the UGA School of Law’s First-Generation Student Association and was the recipient of the Stacey Godfrey Evans Scholarship, which is awarded to first-generation college graduates. The student group focuses on social issues that are relevant to first-generation graduates and is an addition to the First-Start Scholars Program.
Tyler says the facetime with veterans and opportunity to work with them one-on-one was priceless.
“I have always had a deep respect for those who serve our country. When the unpaid position at the University of Georgia School of Law Veterans Clinic was offered to me, I felt in my heart it was the right choice,” Tyler said. “I have always valued the positive impact I can have on someone’s life.”
The case Tyler handled at the VLC was for a Vietnam Navy veteran who lives in Macon. The veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, which caused him to develop medical conditions like diabetes mellitus and peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that affects the nerves in your legs and it caused this veteran to have trouble walking, standing, or sitting for longer than a few minutes.
Tyler’s client had applied for more compensation from the VA for his condition but was denied. Tyler took his case and worked with the treating physician at the VA to develop medical evidence to get him the higher rating he deserved. Tyler filed an appeal of the denial with the VA in December of 2018 and submitted an appeal brief with medical evidence arguing for a higher compensation rating based on his limitations. The veteran was awarded $28,000 in back pay for compensation he should have been receiving and a 100% compensation rating going forward. The new rating almost doubles his monthly income.
Tyler is 26-years-old and grew up in Dublin, Georgia. He didn’t have much money while growing up and said most of the family’s income came from his mother’s disability checks.
“My mother struggled with addiction and got into trouble. I was first exposed to the legal field when my mother was being charged with 48 counts of prescription forgery,” he said. “The judge showed my mother compassion and made sure she got the help she needed. I realized in that courtroom that I wanted what the judge had. I wanted the ability to not only help myself, but to help others on their worst days. I realized that obtaining my education and then getting a law degree would be my ticket to a better life.”
At BBGA Tyler is working with attorneys Michael Ruppersburg and Evan Jones on significant personal injury and wrongful death cases including tractor-trailer wrecks, car wrecks, a lead poisoning case, and nursing home abuse and neglect cases.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work on plaintiff cases where we are trying to right a wrong that has been done to a person,” he said. “The plaintiff’s side of the law is the only side I want to be on. When my grandmother was killed by a negligent truck driver, a plaintiff’s attorney took our case. The attorneys worked diligently and compassionately on our case. It was a very difficult time for my family and knowing that someone had our back meant a lot to us. It inspired me to want to be a plaintiff’s attorney and do that for other people.”
Tyler resides in Athens with his girlfriend and their dog, Dooley. He says perhaps his greatest goal is to one day establish a scholarship for first-generation college graduates at UGA Law.
“Until then, I would love to stay and practice plaintiff’s litigation in Athens. Staying in Athens would allow me to give back to the law school by mentoring students and continue helping with the First-Generation Student Association that I helped start,” he said.
Tyler will be working at BBGA until August before returning to complete his last year of law school at UGA.
Lawson Turner is also a UGA law student working as a summer law clerk at BBGA. He just completed his first year of law school and was born and raised in Savannah. He is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. While in college at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, Lawson earned an educational delay from the U.S. Army to finish his law degree at UGA. When he graduates, he will be recommissioned into the U.S. Army as a JAG Officer (military lawyer).
Lawson said he’s not yet sure what type of law he’s interested in, so having the opportunity to work at BBGA is offering him the ability to work in several different departments to see what type of law he likes the most.
“I am mainly working on research for several shareholders,” he said. “Because I am unsure what type of law I want to practice, I decided to do a split summer where I spend a little bit of time in each division including real estate, plaintiff, and business.”
Lawson is currently researching legal issues involving a state highway that was built with a dangerously low shoulder that caused a fatal wreck and nursing home arbitration agreements.
He said he was inspired to pursue a law degree by two things: Being able to help people when they have been injured or need help in some area of the law, and becoming a JAG officer in the U.S. Army, giving service members the best possible support.
Lawson will be working at BBGA through July.
Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, P.C. has been assisting clients nationwide for more than 30 years with a wide range of complex legal matters. From personal injury to business representation and litigation – to tax and estate planning, and commercial and residential real estate – BBGA’s experienced attorneys helps clients based on their individual needs. Since the firm’s founding in 1984, BBGA has remained one of the largest law firms in the Athens region.