Attorney and U.S. Army veteran Mark Ronning in his Salem office (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

When Mark Ronning left the U.S. Army after 24 years, the transition back to civilian life proved harder than expected.

He’d spent most of his time in active service as a Judge Advocate General’s Corps (or as a JAG officer, as military attorneys are usually called), retiring in 2013. But when the time came to translate that expertise to law offices outside the armed forces, he found that he was a tough sell to recruiters.

“It was hard for civilian law firms to really recognize how skills from the military would translate to civilian life,” Ronning said. 

So he decided to start his own law office, one that specifically took on cases relevant to people transitioning out of the military. The Salem firm opened eight years ago.

A few weeks ago he found out that his firm, Northwest Veterans Law, was one of two local companies commended by the U.S. Department of Labor for encouraging the recruitment and professional development of veterans and active service members.

The 2021 HIRE Vets Medallion Award - announced earlier this month in recognition of Veterans Day - also went to local notary business Ondadottedline.

The HIRE Vets Medallion goes to employers who go out of their way to support veterans and military members in their careers. That applies to hiring, but it also encompasses ongoing professional support.

Bryant Barnwell, the founder of Ondadottedline, is an Army veteran who offers his notary services to other veterans free of charge. 

“I do notary work for most veterans in transition,” Barnwell said. “I do everything from business setups… to trying to help certain vets in transition who are going through homelessness.”

Barnwell outsources any work not done himself to other veterans, he said. Ronning also uses his position to offer work to past and current military members and their families.

“Over the last years, 100% of our employees have been either currently serving service members, or current service members’ dependents, or veterans,” Ronning explained. 

Ronning’s business, which now employs six people, takes on cases for exiting service members struggling to obtain disability benefits from the Veterans Affairs office. They also deal in family law, representing veterans during divorce and custody hearings.

By employing people with similar backgrounds to their clients, the practice can capitalize on the firsthand expertise of its attorneys and clerks, Ronning said. And Northwest Veterans Law is growing -- in January, they’ll leave their current 850 square-foot space and move to a new 2,300 square-foot office building owned by one of the company’s associate attorneys.

The additional room provides an opportunity to add more staff and expand the practice’s mentorship program, Ronning said.

“We really focus down on people who are newer in the career or the transition, and we provide substantial training,” Ronning added. “We always have a veteran who’s a second- or third-year law student and we provide them with law clerk opportunities. We have two more we’re hiring this spring, and many of those law clerks have come to work with us as attorneys.”

In order to be considered for the award, individual companies must apply. Ronning and Barnwell found out that their businesses had been selected via email in October.

Eight hundred and fifty companies across the country received HIRE Vets Medallions this year, including 14 in Oregon. The Oregon Employment Department partners with the U.S. Department of Labor for the administration of the program statewide.

“I’m very proud of winning that. I love what we do, we don't do it for recognition. But it’s nice to get a pat on the back,” Ronnning said.

Applications for the 2022 award will open early next year. More information can be found at oregon.gov/jobs/pages/veterans or HIREVets.gov.

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