Motivated because of her disabled brother's struggles in school, Crystal Grant—recently named a supervising attorney at the Duke Law School's Children's Law Clinic—knew she was going to pursue a career in children's law from a young age.
“As I started to study in school, I understood what was happening with him,” Grant said. “There were times when my parents should have done more but they didn’t because they did not know what to ask for.”
Grant also noted that after watching Clair Huxtable—a lawyer character on the Cosby Show—she was inspired to pursue a future in both law and social work.
“One of the things that my social work training has done for is to help me understand the importance of self-determination for clients,” Grant said. “As an attorney, there’s only so many things I can fix with my legal degree, but I like putting my clients in a position where going forward they can advocate for themselves.”
Grant, also a senior lecturing fellow, joined the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke School of Law in July 2018 as a supervising attorney. Staffed by Duke law students, the Children's Law Clinic is a law office that gives free legal advice and representation to low-income children.
In her role as supervising attorney, Grant supervises second and third-year law students who represent clients in special education, discipline and social security appeals. Grant is also teaching a clinic seminar through which students learn client interviewing, cross-cultural lawyering and legal strategies.
“The clinical model of the Children’s Law Clinic is one where law students do everything from interviewing a client to coming up with a legal strategy,” Grant said. “If we go to a hearing, they will argue the case, and they will write the complaint. I am here to make sure they have looked in every direction and asked the necessary questions.”
Completing her bachelor's degree from Andrews University and her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan, Grant went on to study law at Michigan State University and graduated with a certificate in child and family advocacy.
Grant started her law career with a clerkship under Chief Judge Janelle A. Lawless in the family division of Ingham County Circuit Court in Michigan.
“I learned so much from doing research and writing for her and from observing seasoned attorneys day after day and reading their pleadings,” Grant said.
From 2010 to 2017, she worked as a special education attorney. Representing students with disabilities, she went to their schools, supported their parents and advocated in individualized education program meetings. Grant later went on to become a clinical fellow in the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.
Reflecting on her work, Grant shared how she has focused on systemic advocacy throughout her career so that she could “make a difference for many students and many children.” She also said she enjoyed training others on how to advocate for children with disabilities—many lack the knowledge to do so.
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In discipline cases, Grant observed high suspension rates, especially for students of color and students with disabilities. She says this trend has motivated her to make parents and schools aware of evidence-based and more effective methods like “restorative justice” that minimize the detrimental effects on students’ health and well-being.
In bringing her advocacy work to the Children's Law Clinic, she said that she wants to ensure that those involved are "responsive to needs of the community" and to "[see] what the community is seeing and experiencing."
“When I was in Michigan I thought that there aren’t enough people doing this kind of work,” Grant said. “But I am excited to see that families in the Triangle area have a lot of options.”
In the future, the clinic will partner with the Education Justice Alliance, which aims to end the "school-to-prison pipeline."
“I believe there is power in numbers,” Grant said. “It is one thing when an attorney goes before the school board to say you should not suspend this student, but another thing when they go equipped with a community sitting behind them saying we do not support the suspension."
Jane Wettach, William B. McGuire clinical professor of law and director of the Children’s Law Clinic, praised Grant and her "wealth of experience" in advocating for children with disabilities and an overall commitment to social justice.
"At the same time, her calm and thoughtful demeanor makes her an excellent supervisor of the law students who are learning the skills of interacting with and representing clients," Wettach said.