Alumna is ‘On The Move’

Could you give virtually everything you have away to follow your passion?

It was a question that Melanie Gleason '00 asked herself. In the end, her passion was strong enough to set her on an unconventional path. She left her office behind to become an itinerant pro bono lawyer.

Last summer, the Academy of Notre Dame Alumna began her journey traveling across the U.S. providing pro bono legal services to communities in inner cities and rural areas in what she has called the “Attorney on the Move” project.

“Over the course of my career, I was working in a number of impacted communities, but I realized that there were a number of communities I had never been in before,” said Gleason. “Growing up in suburban Massachusetts is one specific experience—but what about the infinite number of other experiences that are out there? 

“I recognized that I had an opportunity to see more of America's communities after being sworn into the bar. I wanted to see what life is like on a reservation—what life is like in a federal immigration detention center—I wanted to see so much more. And I have been very privileged to have been able to do so.”

In July of 2015, Gleason left the Oakland, CA-area and set out for Delano where she volunteered with the California Rural Legal Assistance whose work impacts farmworkers, individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, LGBT communities, women, children, and families in rural areas.  From there, her work has taken her from the Pacific Northwest, to reservations in Montana and Arizona, to New Mexico and currently Texas.  The project is not without it’s challenges. Gleason relies solely on crowd funding to live on but thrives on being funded by the public. 

Since the start of 2016, her focus has been immigration law.

“The immigrant community has deep intersectionalities with many other oppressive institutions in this country and around the globe: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism—the list goes on,” said Gleason. “Specializing in immigrant justice work feels like the best way I can make the deepest and most heartfelt contribution in pushing back against the status quo as it may intersect with any number of these -isms.”

Gleason feels the project, now in it’s 10th month, has its roots in her time at the Academy. 

“Looking back, NDA was maybe the seed of where my love for community organizing and lawyering was planted. I loved being involved with the different groups I was a part of there—the high school musical, Student Council, and the friendships I had there were the most memorable,” said Gleason. “I also remember my first volunteering experience with Toys for Tots through Student Council and it was hugely impactful for me. It led me to continue volunteering throughout college—which eventually led me to community organize—which ultimately led me to become an immigrant rights lawyer.”

“A teacher who has been on my mind the most recently is Sarah Sadowski, who was my senior year religion teacher. She was the first teacher I ever had who introduced critical analysis to pushing back against the status quo. It was radical at the time because in my 13 years of education, no other teacher had attempted to do such a thing. 

“Our schools need more teachers like Ms. Sadowski who were passionate about teaching students a set of critical thinking skills about what society is presenting them.”

For information about Melanie, the Attorney on the Move project and her upcoming Virtual Law Office venture, . To support her pro bono work, visit her crowdfunding website at .