To celebrate our 40th anniversary, Virginia Legal Aid Society is telling 40 stories that reflect our history, our people and the cases and events that have made the past 40 years so memorable.
In part I, Carol and Alan Gravitt launch their legal careers at Legal Aid Society of Roanoke Valley.
In May 1983, Carol and Alan Gravitt left Legal Aid Society of Roanoke Valley together, returned home to Halifax, and started their own law firm.
“I am skeptical, Carol, that anyone else can provide the yeast with which you regularly leavened our bread, or the handicapped and education expertise for which you built our reputation and your own,” Henry L. Woodward, Senior Attorney with Legal Aid Society of Roanoke Valley, wrote to them upon their departure. “I have no idea, Alan, where we’ll get the bankruptcy depth you’ve given us, or your initiative and imagination in other areas of the law. Thank you both for all you have contributed.”
They moved into a building near the courthouse, lived on the second floor, practiced law on the first and began to build a business from scratch. They tapped their legal aid experience, focusing on domestic law and social service agency work. … Well, at first they focused their practice the way any start-up business does: “Anything that came through the door that we knew how to do,” Alan said.
Starting a law firm from scratch isn’t easy, particularly in an economy that was still emerging from The Great Recession. “Our secretary got more money than we did that first year,” Alan said.
But the move was good for their young family, and business steadily picked up. “I have a willingness to take on the strange case,” Alan said. “Other lawyers would occasionally tell their clients, ‘I don’t know anything about this. Go see Alan Gravitt.’ ”
Carol and Alan were champions of Virginia Legal Aid Society’s pro bono attorney network. They volunteered on a wide range of cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, adoptions, wills and guardianships. They participated in telephone nights, where people could call in and receive free legal education. They served on VLAS’s pro bono committee in Halifax. And Alan served on VLAS’s board of directors for about 20 years.
“We have always been concerned about being available to the public,” Carol said.
Their community work has gone far beyond free legal service to VLAS clients. Carol was been a vital supporter of the Special Victims Coalition in Halifax, a group of providers that coordinates efforts to help serve abused children and other victims. Alan served two terms on the Halifax County School Board. Carol is working on an initiative in the area to improve understanding and foster constructive discussion about race.
As business grew and they took on other attorneys, the Gravitts encouraged their associates to find their own ways of giving back to the community, creating a culture that’s likely to last long past their active involvement in the firm. The Gravitts sold the practice to the firm’s other attorneys July 1, 2016. They have stayed on to help with the transition as they prepare for retirement.
VLAS doesn’t intend to let them walk away empty handed. We are presenting Carol and Alan Gravitt with the second annual Joel C. Cunningham, Sr. Award honoring outstanding contributions in the 10th Judicial Circuit (where Judge Cunningham served) to providing access to justice.