From the Desk of Vikram Swaruup: My First Week at Legal Aid


It’s been quite a week. On Monday, I started my tenure as Executive Director of Legal Aid of the District of Columbia. I’m honored and humbled to lead such an important organization.

As I get to know my colleagues and our partners, I want to introduce myself. Before joining this team, I worked as Chief Deputy Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. I was fortunate in that role to work with talented colleagues and advocates from Legal Aid. For example, in 2020, both Legal Aid and the Attorney General filed parallel lawsuits challenging a proposed federal rule that would have cut hundreds of thousands of people off food stamps at the beginning of the pandemic. Legal Aid’s talented staff — and impressive pro bono counsel — brought the voices of their clients to federal court to explain the devastating impact this would have. I was moved and inspired by their work. Mostly, I was glad to be on the same side and win the fight to preserve those critical benefits for residents who need them.

My first week has been fantastic. While I am trying to get up to speed on the full range of this new role (like the budget and grants), I feel fortunate that I was mainly able to spend time getting to know many of my new colleagues and their work. I have been moved by the range and volume of work they do to make our city a fairer place. I’ve heard, for example, about a housing lawyer’s efforts to help longstanding District condo owners stay in their homes, a public benefits specialist’s work to assist clients navigating cumbersome bureaucracies, and collaboration between our family lawyers and policy team to help ensure that more child support dollars go to kids in need rather than to the government. These conversations have just scratched the surface of everything Legal Aid does, but they have been awe-inspiring.

I’m proud to join Legal Aid in the effort to fight for justice, which has defined not only my career, but my life. After immigrating to this country, I came of age as South Asians faced discrimination and violence after 9/11, and I came out amid a national discussion about whether discrimination against LGBTQ+ people should be enshrined in the Constitution. I know what it feels like to wonder whether people like me will be heard in the halls of power, and I have dedicated my career to ensuring others know that they will. That is why I moved to the District to work in the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice and started my career at OAG fighting discrimination against tenants and residents who were being pushed out of their neighborhoods. I hope that I can use my own life experiences, the skills that I have built, the lessons that I have learned, and the connections I have made to build on the incredible work of my colleagues to serve Legal Aid’s clients.

I’m looking forward to meeting and working with my new colleagues and all of you over the next months and years. The challenges before us are significant, but together, we can, as Legal Aid has been doing for more than 90 years, help make justice real in the District of Columbia.

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