West Virginia native Matthew Grow had planned to stay on the East Coast to attend law school, but he was drawn to the University of Utah based on the school’s reputation for collaboration and small class sizes.
Grow’s legal education is taking an interesting turn this year, as he is the law school’s inaugural recipient of the Public Citizenship Fellowship. The fellowship requires the recipient to work “to improve the quality of justice” by seeking “improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice of the quality of service rendered by the legal profession,” said Linda Smith, a professor of law who also direct’s the clinical program.
The fellowship was based upon the notion, set forth in the Preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, that a lawyer is not only a representative of clients and an officer of the court, but also “a public citizen having a special responsibility for the quality of justice,” Smith added.
“Matt is an ideal candidate to be the first Public Citizen Fellow. He came to law school hoping to learn how to engage in law reform work, and he presented a great proposal about law reform that he wanted to undertake this year,” said Smith.
Grow shared his journey to law school and experiences at the S.J. Quinney College of Law so far in a recent Q&A session.
Q: What drew you to the University of Utah?
A fellow West Virginian and good friend had recently graduated from this law school and suggested I check it out. I followed his advice, visited the school, and just felt comfortable here. I enjoy how the small class size really gives you the chance to get to know and work with students and professors. Yet, had the school’s atmosphere not convinced me, the mountains certainly would have. I have good parents who raised me to love the outdoors, and Utah’s wilderness is unmatched.
Q: Why did you decide to go to law school?
The protests centering around the recent presidential election have been for me an opportunity to reflect on that question because I came to law school to protest. In my early teens, my older sister started taking me to concerts and protests in D.C., which was likely an early influencer on my thinking. I admired the bravery of the organizers and participants in those events in standing up for important issues while facing resistance. I wanted to somehow contribute to their work. When I started reading about the civil rights movement and the contributions of legal advocacy groups like the NAACP and ACLU I realized that the courts, like the streets, are effective forums for advocacy. With that realization, becoming an attorney seemed like the logical path to carry the protest into my professional/adult life, and seeing the courts in the last couple weeks side with attorneys protesting government directives in order to protect hard-fought civil rights and liberties reminds me of the far-reaching impact legal protest can have.
Q: You’re the first student to work as part of a new fellowship this semester. Tell us about what you will be doing and how this work is helping to round out your law school experience. Why are you excited about this opportunity?
When reading about the Public Citizenship Fellowship, I knew immediately that I wanted to apply. With the way this fellowship is structured, having the students submit their own proposals for it, it’s as if the school were saying to them “Hey, how about I give you a scholarship, paycheck, and platform for you to work on your passion project?” And the only thing the school asks in return is that you go out and accomplish that project you wanted so badly to accomplish in the first place. That’s an unbeatable offer, and it’s an experience most law students never get.
For my fellowship project, I wanted to do something about the current state of expungement law, and I recognized that there was an opportunity for change to the law itself given the successes in criminal justice reform in Utah over the past few years. Criminal records severely limit the most basic and vital aspects of life for anyone carrying them. Finding a job, housing, or a loan becomes an almost impossible task, and left without options, many criminal offenders needlessly struggle on the path away from recidivism. That is why I am currently working on a number of initiatives and legislative bills remove needless barriers to expunging criminal records. This opportunity has also given me a chance to implement what I’ve learned so far in school––i.e., statutory interpretation, constitutional law, etc.––and turn the theoretical into what I hope are substantive changes in the criminal justice system.
Q: What are your hopes for a career path following graduation?
I’d like to see myself continuing to work on issues I feel passionate about. I was very lucky to work on a large number of those while still in law school, so I’m hoping to continue that trend up to and right after graduation without much of an intermission.