PUBLISHED:July 09, 2018

Grant joins Children’s Law Clinic as new supervising attorney

Crystal Grant

Crystal Grant, a longtime advocate for children with disabilities and clients facing special education issues, joined Duke Law’s Children’s Law Clinic as supervising attorney on July 2.

Grant, who was a clinical fellow in the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, “has a resumé that immediately rose to the top of the pile,” said William B. McGuire Clinical Professor of Law Jane Wettach, who directs the Children’s Law Clinic. “She has just the right practice background, and for the past year has very intentionally been in a setting that helps develop clinical teaching skills.” Grant’s training in social work as well as law also dovetails with the clinic’s priorities, Wettach said.

In addition to advocating for low-income children on matters relating to special education and school discipline, the Children’s Law Clinic partners with several area medical practices in taking referrals to help children establish eligibility for public benefit programs or to solve legal problems that are interfering with a child’s overall wellbeing.

Grant, a Michigan native, majored in social work at Andrews University and then pursued her Master of Social Work (MSW) at the University of Michigan, graduating in 2006. Aiming to craft a career devoted to helping children and families, she simultaneously enrolled in law school at Michigan State University, receiving her JD in 2007. Her career goals, she said, were to a great extent inspired by having witnessed her disabled brother’s struggles in school.

“As I was taking courses, I saw how different systems had failed him and wanted to help change things for children like him,” Grant said, noting that a lack of early intervention can lead to lifelong problems. “If you help a child get a good education, you help their future. And I think that is especially true for children in the child welfare system and children in need of special education.”

After law school, Grant worked as a recipients rights officer — a municipal investigator looking into complaints made by disabled people against providers — before beginning a clerkship Chief Judge Janelle A. Lawless in the family division of Ingham County (Mich.) Circuit Court.

“Judge Lawless heard a lot of juvenile law and abuse and neglect cases,” said Grant. “I learned so much from doing research and writing for her and from observing seasoned attorneys day after day and reading their pleadings.”

From 2010 until 2017, Grant represented students with disabilities in administrative proceedings and mediation and in state and federal courts as the special education attorney for the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc., an independent nonprofit designated by the governor to advocate and protect the legal rights of people with disabilities. 

“I covered the entire state, going to individualized education program meetings, trying to collaborate with parents and school districts, and when there was a dispute that needed to be resolved legally, filing complaints with the Michigan Department of Education or an administrative law judge,” she said, noting that the fundamental legal structures governing special education rights — the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act — also apply to students in North Carolina.

Having enjoyed working with student interns in her practice and while clerking, Grant relished the opportunity to focus on teaching  while helping clients in need in her fellowship at Michigan Law’s Pediatric Advocacy Clinic. “As it turns out, the faculty really mentored me in clinical pedagogy and I fell in love with the clinical model of teaching,” she said.

Wettach observed that Grant’s fellowship involved work that closely aligns with that of the Children’s Law Clinic in its focus on special education and school discipline law. “The Pediatric Advocacy Clinic even has a medical legal partnership,” Wettach said. “Her supervisor there saw the notice for this job and said, ‘I don’t want you to leave, but this is the perfect job for you.’ And it really is.”

Grant, who is moving to Durham with her husband and two children, agrees with that assessment.

“Jane has such a great reputation and the clinic has been so impactful,” she said. “I’m looking forward to contributing to that.”