CUNY Law Impact: HIV/AIDS Advocacy


The story of CUNY Law is the stories of our alumni and the impact they have on the world: inequality, poverty, immigration, and the rights of women, children, families, the elderly. They right wrongs as defenders and judges. They serve the pressing needs of the poor and disadvantaged in communities that often lack access to legal representation.

Elizabeth Valentin ’01: Serving Vulnerable Elders and Their Families

Elizabeth Valentin (’01) laughed when asked how she got interested in elder law. “It’s a funny story,” said Valentin, who specializes in guardianship, estate planning, and Medicaid cases at Littman Krooks LLP.

She had come to CUNY Law aspiring to be a civil rights lawyer. So when it came time to choose a clinic, civil rights was her top pick; elder law was the runner-up. At the time, her family was having concerns about her paternal grandmother, who was living alone with health problems. In the end, she moved in with the Valentins.

“I remember thinking, if I don’t get my first choice, then at least I’ll learn something that I could use to help my parents while my grandmother was living with us,” said Valentin, whose family comes from the Dominican Republic. “I got the Elder Law Clinic and ended up loving it. It was totally by accident.”

Taking the clinic gave Valentin, the first in her family to go to college and law school, the chance to explore different areas of elder law. She discovered an affinity for guardianships after going to court with her first client.

Valentin first heard of CUNY Law as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania doing research for Lani Guinier, who was then a law professor (in 1993, Guinier was nominated by Bill Clinton to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division). Guinier suggested Valentin check out CUNY Law if she was serious about public interest law.

Fast-forward to 2013, and it is Valentin’s 11th year at Littman Krooks. Valentin is grateful to Professor Joe Rosenberg for inspiring her to focus on elder law and for giving her the job lead in the first place.

About half the work she does now includes guardianship cases. These may involve adults who are mentally incapacitated from dementia or other illness. She also handles cases of individuals 18 and older who are legally emancipated from their parents but lack the mental capacity to make decisions because of a developmental disability.

In both situations, someone, usually a family member, goes to court to ask for a guardian to be appointed to make medical or financial decisions.

“Someone needs to pay their bills, place them in a nursing home, or get them 24-hour home care, but they may never have signed a healthcare proxy or power of attorney,” Valentin said. Even though Valentin is busy practicing elder law, she continues to keep in close contact with CUNY Law, sharing current issues in elder law with the clinic and giving back to the school that has given her so much.

Before CUNY Law, “I had never encountered an environment where I was so supported,” she mused. “You hear all these horror stories about how cutthroat law school is. My experience was the complete opposite; so nurturing from my first day— and that continues today.”

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At least 30 CUNY Law grads have served as judges in NY and beyond.