As president and chief executive of Public Counsel Law Center, Dan Grunfeld leads one of Los Angeles' largest pro bono legal firms. Born in Israel but raised in Ethiopia, Grunfeld left a partnership at McDermott Will & Emery seven years ago to join the non-profit organization, helping the city's immigrants obtain political asylum and the homeless get jobs. Recently returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Grunfeld starts the New Year with a $5.5 million capital campaign designed to pay for a new building to house the agency's growing number of volunteers.
Question: What prompted you to leave a private practice to head a pro bono organization?
Answer: My wife and I were on vacation in Alaska when I got a message from a friend saying that Steve Nissen, my predecessor, had decided to leave Public Counsel and I should think about throwing my name in. The next message, from a different friend, had the same suggestion. (My wife) said to me, "If there's another message between now and when you get back, somebody's trying to tell you something." Then, an acquaintance said, "Have you thought about throwing your resume in?" My wife said, "The stars are aligned. There's something going on. You should apply." On a personal level, it also appealed to me. I am an immigrant to this country, and it's a country that opened its doors and its arms very wide to me and my family. Not everybody has had that opportunity.
Q: How has the organization changed since you came on?
A: We are much bigger now than when we were in 1997 and 1998, evidenced by the fact we're out of space in this building. We're doing a lot more things we had not done before, from helping emancipate youth to working on behalf of other non-profit organizations.
Q: Is dealing with young people the core of the work?
A: We help more vulnerable children than any other organization in Los Angeles. We're making sure that if they get out of the foster care system they're not homeless. We do a wide variety of consumer cases, anything from people stealing folks' houses to water purification scams to notario fraud, where you have individuals who purport to be acting as lawyers giving legal advice. They often have to do with bankruptcy assistance or immigration assistance. They're often not lawyers, and often the advice they give is completely ineffective or completely wrong.
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