Prestigious Fellowship Enables New Grad to Serve Veterans
While Ely Grinvald '12 was a student at Southwestern, he immersed himself in a variety of public interest activities. From the first day he volunteered at Public Counsel, he knew that this was exactly where he wanted to work after graduation. Becoming an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow has allowed him to do this.
As a Fellow, he works at Public Counsel's Center for Veterans Advancement (CVA). When he was a student, he spent three semesters as a volunteer for Public Counsel, two with the Consumer Law Project and one with the CVA. In this position, he advocates for and assists homeless and low income veterans with legal issues, ranging from tickets and warrants to consumer, tax and family law matters. CVA is a project of Public Counsel, the nation's largest pro bono law firm. The CVA is a national leader in veteran's advocacy, and provides direct representation, or representation through pro bono partners, to veterans and their families.
"This is my dream job," Grinvald said. "My clients are veterans. Most are homeless; there's no way they can afford an attorney. CVA has a close partnership with the Los Angeles County Bar Association, so I can also place clients with pro bono attorneys in order to help more veterans."
Grinvald, who was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States in the late 1990s, had actually worked for an estate planning firm before attending Southwestern. He considered pursuing that area of law, but once he became immersed in his legal studies, he delved into public interest activities, and realized that is where he needed to serve. He participated in Southwestern's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, served as a summer clerk at Bet Tzedek in 2011 (where his fluency in Russian and German came in handy when representing clients) and participated in the Children's Rights Clinic during his final semester.
"Southwestern's Children's Rights Clinic was one of the best experiences I had in law school," he said. "It was the best preparation you could imagine for what I'm doing. You have your own case load, your own clients. There's careful supervision, but you are responsible to help your clients. You learn about how to respond to and deal with opposing counsel and documentation. Professors Waterstone and Fee are amazing."
When Grinvald learned that Public Counsel is a host organization that regularly hires AmeriCorps Fellows, he applied. He interviewed for the fellowship one week before he took the bar exam. He was offered the job the next day.
He credits his Public Counsel/CVA supervisor Rick Little with mentoring him during his tenure as a volunteer. "He has been teaching me how to think like a lawyer ever since we met," Grinvald explained. "There are so many different legal issues that come up, so many fields of law, and I'm just out of law school. His guidance has been vital."
The Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship is a specific fellowship available to lawyers, typically those who are recent law school graduates. The mission of Equal Justice Works is to create a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. The program provides leadership to ensure a sustainable pipeline of talented and trained lawyers are involved in public service. Equal Justice Works provides a continuum of programs that begin with incoming law school students and extend into later careers in the profession. It sponsors the nation's leading public interest law fellowship program and offers more postgraduate, full-time legal positions in public service than any other organization.
Grinvald has great passion for his work and hopes to become a full-time staff attorney at CVA at the conclusion of his fellowship, which will last one or two years. "I know that what I do will actually help someone," he said. "It will remove a barrier to employment or to housing. I work on helping people take their first steps to becoming self-sufficient and living a good life. This is the kind of work I want to do."