Youth advocate: Clinical Fellow focuses on special education law

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
     
With degrees in social work and law, Crystal Grant has found the perfect career combination: a medical-legal partnership as a supervising attorney/senior lecturing fellow in the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University School of Law. She started this summer after a year as a clinical fellow in the University of Michigan Law School’s Pediatric Advocacy Clinic.

“I’m enjoying getting to know how special education is implemented in North Carolina—there are many similarities but some things are different and I learn something new every day,” she says. “In the coming months I’ll be focusing on meeting all the sponsors in our medical-legal partnership. I love building new relationships so I’m looking forward to meeting other advocates and, of course, the students.”

Grant, who focuses on special education litigation, appreciated the interdisciplinary collaborations in the MLaw clinic.

“For example, we worked with pediatric residents who could explain our clients’ medical conditions and assist with our legal strategy,” she says.

“We also worked with a number of social workers who referred great cases and assisted us with getting necessary records. These collaborations really helped our students gain real-life experience in interviewing and working with professionals across disciplines.”

Grant relishes the energy and new ideas her law students bring to the table.

“I often learn from them,” she says. “I’m really impressed with the level of growth I see in my students from the beginning to the end of the semester. The students take client representation very seriously and work hard to quickly learn a very specialized and nuanced area of law.

“I’m also very encouraged by their empathy and commitment to our clients. Many students exceed the number of work hours required in order to achieve the best results for our clients and that warms my heart!”

Grant enjoys getting updates from previous clients.

“I love getting invitations to graduations of students who were once expelled from school or struggling academically,” she says. “It’s nice to know my advocacy has made a difference in their lives.”

She notes there is an increase in Michigan school districts filing litigation against parents.

“This is concerning because there are few parent attorneys who practice in this area and most parents are unable to secure representation,” she says.

“All school districts have access to counsel and insurance which covers the costs of litigation. I’d like to see more resources for parents and parent attorneys that would level the playing field.”

Grant started as a political science major in undergrad before deciding that wasn’t her calling. 

“I switched to social work after taking an introductory course and falling in love with the study of social justice and the direct impact social workers have on their clients,” she says.

She earned a BSW in social work from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, and an MSW from the University of Michigan, before earning her J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law—fulfilling a childhood dream when she was inspired by the TV character of attorney “Claire Huxtable” on the Cosby Show. 

“As I grew older, I decided I wanted to be an attorney that helped children because they are such a vulnerable group,” she says.

After graduating from MSU Law, she spent five months as a Recipient Rights Officer with the Washtenaw Community Health Organization in Ypsilanti, then 3 years as a judicial law clerk in Ingham County, followed by 7 years as a staff attorney with the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service (MPAS), practicing throughout the state of Michigan.

“One of the things I liked about working in Washtenaw and Ingham counties were the resources and access to professionals,” she says. “Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University had access to great experts in their schools and medical systems.”

The Lansing native is settling into her new life in Chapel Hill, N.C., with her husband Calvin, and children Kaia, 5, and 1-year-old Preston, and the family dog, Samson.

In her leisure time, Grant loves to travel and explore other countries, with multiple stamps in her passport.

“I’ve been to Fiji, Angola, Cuba, England and Mexico,” she says. “I can’t wait to go somewhere new!”




   
 

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