PUBLISHED:August 02, 2021

Grant named director of Children’s Law Clinic


Grant, an attorney and social worker, has forged new partnerships to serve clients in a holistic way, including assisting families with non-legal needs that directly affect their well-being.

Clinical Professor and Children's Law Clinic Director Crystal Grant Clinical Professor and Children's Law Clinic Director Crystal Grant

Clinical Professor Crystal Grant has been named director of the Children’s Law Clinic, which provides legal advice, advocacy, and representation to low-income children and families on matters relating to special education, school discipline, and children’s disability benefits.

Grant joined the faculty as the clinic’s supervising attorney in July 2018 and became interim director when its founder, William B. McGuire Clinical Professor Emerita of Law Jane Wettach, retired in June 2020.

Before coming to Duke Law, Grant was a clinical fellow in the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. Prior to that she was special education attorney for Disability Rights Michigan and served as an adjunct professor at Spring Arbor University.

“Professor Grant has been a tremendous addition to Duke Law’s clinical faculty,” said Clinical Professor Andrew Foster, who directs the Community Enterprise Clinic. “In just a few short years, she has taken important steps to reimagine the Children’s Clinic as a truly interdisciplinary initiative that can serve the needs of low-income children more holistically by engaging with members of the medical, nursing, and social work communities. Crystal is exceptional and Duke Law is fortunate to have her.”

Since joining the clinic Grant has brought her dual perspective as an attorney and social worker to forge new community partnerships. The Children’s Law Clinic is now an official field placement site for interns from the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, and in 2020 it welcomed its first year-long social work intern to consult and collaborate on cases with Duke Law students.

With a social worker on the team, the clinic can now assist families with non-legal needs such as applying for public benefits, requesting a special education evaluation, and accessing community resources for homelessness and food insecurity. Being able to help families with issues affecting their overall functioning and well-being was especially beneficial during a year in which they, along with school systems and communities, struggled to adapt to the impact of the pandemic, Grant said.

“In a lot of our cases there are issues that come up that aren’t squarely legal, and in the past we might have turned away a family,” she said. “Now we can say, ‘You’re not at the point where you need a lawyer yet, but we will have our social work intern help you with that and connect you with resources. It was perfect timing because the need couldn’t have been greater.”

Clinic students also collaborate with pediatric residents and nurses on Duke’s campus, building on the Durham Medical-Legal Partnership for Families started by Wettach in 2007 to identify and address social and legal issues that impede children’s health and well-being.

“I’m very interested in interprofessional practice and that’s lawyers working in collaboration with other professions,” Grant said. “I’ve had doctors and social workers work alongside lawyers, and that is the direction most medical-legal partnerships are going.”

Students pair up on cases in new team-based model

During the past year the clinic worked entirely virtually, focusing primarily on cases that involved students with disabilities in need of accommodations to access their education. Virtual lawyering enabled the clinic to expand its service area beyond a one-hour radius from the Law School and take a systemic case in a rural county. Systemic cases may involve a school or school district policy or practice that impacts multiple students who are similarly situated, rather than just one.

One of the biggest changes in the clinic this year was Grant’s institution of a team-based model in which students work on cases with a partner throughout the semester, rather than handling them independently. Grant said feedback indicates students appreciate learning to work with a partner on writing briefs and devising case strategy.

“A lot of students didn’t realize they had room to grow in that area so that’s another skill we’ve been able to add to the clinic curriculum,” she said.

A member of the Clinical Legal Education Association’s board of directors, Grant is active in the development and dissemination of best practices in law school clinical education nationwide. At Duke Law, she has taken leadership roles in planning continuing education sessions for clinical faculty and serves on the Teaching and Learning Committee.

“Professor Grant has not only initiated new ways of teaching students and serving clients at the Children’s Law Clinic, but has done much to support the continuous improvement of our clinical teaching practice through her committee service,” said James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean Kerry Abrams. “I am so pleased that Duke Law will continue to benefit with her leadership of the clinic.”

Grant received her MSW from the University of Michigan and JD from Michigan State University College of Law. She clerked for Judge Janelle A. Lawless of the Ingham County Circuit Court where she conducted legal research on family law, child welfare, and juvenile justice issues.

Her recent scholarship includes “COVID-19’s Impact on Students With Disabilities in Under-Resourced School Districts,” 48 Fordham Urban Law Journal 127 (2021), in which she assesses the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schoolchildren with disabilities in under-resourced districts and suggests ways to expand access to resources for that population and address educational loss and the digital divide.