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Meet the nomad lawyer who travels America fighting social justice cases for free

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Amy Lewis
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As her blog puts it, Melanie Gleason is an American attorney on the move, literally.

Seven months ago she packed up her flat in Oakland, California, got in her smart car with just a laptop and a bag of clothes, and headed off across the country to join the fight for social justice.

A licensed public interest attorney, Gleason has traded the office-based norm for a nomad lifestyle. She travels in search of people who need her help, taking on immigration and social injustice cases pro bono.

Relying on crowdfunding to get things started, Gleason began by helping farm workers in rural Cali town Delano, who were dealing with wage theft, unsafe housing and industry-wide sexual harassment.

Since then, she’s taken on around 70 cases across Oregon, Montana, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico, and has now announced plans to continue her pro bono project until the end of 2016 - it was originally a six month scheme.

“The 100% pro bono project Attorney on the Move was created to intentionally go where many of us haven't been - or where we are not 'supposed' to go,” Gleason writes on her crowdfunding page.

“At times, this journey has been uncomfortable. Challenging. Empowering. Heartbreaking. Our most marginalized communities are often hidden from mainstream view: forgotten, left behind - in a place that can be very dark.”

Previous to obtaining her legal qualifications, Gleason worked as a special education primary school teacher, which she eventually swapped to become to become a community organiser in urban and rural areas.

She went to school in an area which greatly lacked diversity, before throwing herself into volunteering while at university in Austin, Texas.

It’s this mixed bag of early experiences that the 33-year-old says gave her the insight and passion for helping people, and which sparked her travelling attorney idea.

After studying for a law degree part-time while still working as an organiser, Gleason hit the road as soon as she was sworn into the bar, and hasn't looked back.

Couch-surfing and sleeping at the make-shift offices she helps out in have become the new norm, but it’s a rewarding lifestyle that Gleason’s incredibly proud of.

“I believe in a form of lawyering that goes beyond the confines of office walls,” she explains via Instagram.

“Although crashing on the conference room couch and taking a shower in my colleague's office (the shower is in her separate bathroom, hah) may not be the norm -  what can I say: I like challenging the status quo.”

You can follow Melanie Gleason’s journey on her blog, and make a donation to help her continue working pro bono via the crowdfunding page.

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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.

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