Learning Law for a Purpose

Not all students enter law school with a clear idea of what they want from the experience. But Amy Malia Gellatly ’14 did.

Gellatly, a union organizer before coming to American University Washington College of Law, enrolled with a specific focus: to gain a deep understanding of the legal system so she could use that knowledge to help people who are collaborating to improve their life conditions.

Amy Malia Gellatly ’14
Amy Malia Gellatly ’14

“I appreciated being at a place where many of the faculty had done important social justice work,” Gellatly said of AUWCL. She cited her clinical experience—the Immigrant Justice Clinic in particular—as being one of the most fulfilling elements of her legal education.

The clinic, then run jointly by Professor Jayesh Rathod, associate dean for experiential education and now director of the Clinic, and Associate Professor Anita Sinha, now director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic, gave Gellatly the opportunity to look at immigrant justice from multiple lenses.

She recalled an experience as a member of a student team investigating working conditions in the poultry industry of the Delmarva Peninsula. Gellatly and a few colleagues made several trips to the Eastern Shore to conduct qualitative interviews of the workers, most of whom were immigrants. Gellatly appreciated this opportunity to study a legal issue while at the same time getting an intimate view of a reality far removed from WCL’s campus.

Now Gellatly is an eviction defense attorney and community lawyer at Bread for the City, a nonprofit working with D.C. residents to reduce poverty, support justice, and uproot racism. She works with individuals facing eviction and is collaborating with others on how to prevent widespread eviction and displacement of Black and brown people as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gellatly, recipient of the 2020 Peter M. Cicchino Public Service Award for an alum whose career has spanned five to 15 years, said she was honored by the recognition named for the late Assistant Professor Peter M. Cicchino, a scholar and public interest lawyer.