Luke Grundman logged over 1,000 hours with Legal Aid by the time he graduated from law school. In the years since then, he has been an Equal Justice Works Fellow working with Legal Aid’s consumer and housing law units, a generalist in a Medical-Legal Partnership between Legal Aid and the Whittier Clinic, and Managing Attorney of Legal Aid’s Housing Unit.

In late 2021, Grundman accepted the position of Litigation Director. He reflects here on his experiences over the past fifteen years at Legal Aid.

What drew you to Legal Aid?

As a Legal Aid clerk, I was trusted to do a lot of casework and I was hooked from the first day. It was a great learning environment. There were so many people who needed help, and it was fun and intellectually stimulating. I was like, whoa, this is so much better than school! This was actual law. I could take knowledge, apply it to a case, and something happened.

Can you talk about an early case that influenced your career?

I represented an elderly Vietnamese American couple in a foreclosure case. They gave a lot of money to a company to help save their home, but it was a scam. Eventually, they decided to let their house go and we focused on the scammer in federal court. The case settled before trial and my clients received a modest sum of money. The federal court entered a permanent injunction, barring that company from operating, forever, in the state of Minnesota.

When that case closed, I was startled by their gratitude. For these folks, it was about so much more than the money. It was about having help to fight back. That sense of justice has real value to human beings – not to just be run over by someone who is doing wrong.

With these folks, I came to full understanding that it’s the client’s case and we are working for them. We’re here to have their backs and be sure they don’t have to figure things out on their own. We can help them understand what’s happening legally, but it’s not just about the law and what we can accomplish. The client’s feelings are of paramount importance and our focus should always be on their hopes and expectations.

The Housing Unit tripled in size in your five years as Managing Attorney. What challenges did you face?

The pandemic rollercoaster upended the practice of housing law. When the courts shut down, we had had to figure out how to deal with hundreds of open eviction cases. Then came the eviction moratorium, and some landlords tried to skirt the moratorium’s protections. Many alleged criminal activities on the part of tenants.

We showed up at housing court zoom sessions and did our best to maintain housing stability for every tenant. Sometimes all we could do was soften the blow of eviction and keep a family’s housing record clear. Just as we were settling into that new role as quasi-public defenders, the moratorium lifted and the floodgates to eviction cases opened. Lucky for me, the Housing Unit is made up of stellar lawyers and staff who rolled with the changes and did a lot of good for people.

What is your advice for new lawyers?

Vicarious trauma is real. If our goal is to be open and connect with the humanity of our clients, to meet them with empathy and compassion, then we have to care for our own humanity. Stay open, talk to your colleagues, and ask for help when you need it.

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