ICLC Spotlight: Director of Homeless Veterans Project, Melissa Tyner

About Melissa Tyner

Melissa Tyner spent most of her childhood years growing up in Northern California. After earning her bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz, Melissa moved to Los Angeles, where she attended law school at Whittier Law School. Some of her favorite hobbies include reading, hiking, and running. A self-proclaimed foodie, she loves trying new restaurants, and agrees that L.A. has a spectacular restaurant scene.

Why did you decide to pursue public interest law? More specifically, what about veterans law interests you?
When I was in high school, I participated in several speaking competitions that were sponsored by veterans service organizations. After receiving scholarships from several of these organizations. I had a deep sense of gratitude and wanted to give back. I grew to understand that veterans needed more in-depth advocacy; otherwise they may be wrongfully excluded from treatment and benefits.

How did you hear about Inner City Law Center? What made you want to work here?
I first heard about ICLC when I met an attorney at a holiday party for another legal services organization. The attorney told me about the work that ICLC does. At the time, ICLC was planning on growing the veterans team, so the stars aligned. I took the bar exam and two weeks later joined the staff at ICLC.

You see and hear a lot of things come through your desk and office every day. A new client, a new story, a new case to solve. What keeps you motivated to do the work you do?
The growth of the veterans team here at ICLC motivates me because I see it as an impact multiplier. Seeing others get involved with the work we do here, we’re able to end homelessness for more and more veterans in our community.
Moreover, the resilience of our clients motivates me. After all the trauma and suffering they have been through they still have hope for the future and a desire to help others however they can.

What is one of your greatest accomplishments here at ICLC?
Looking from the outside in, one of the greatest accomplishments was our role in the Valentini case.

From the inside out, one of my greatest accomplishments was creating a project that’s more sustainable than how I found it. When I first started working at ICLC, it was me and one other attorney that worked on veterans issues. Now we have a team of five attorneys and counting! We have gone from serving 80-100 clients each year to serving approximately 500 clients per year. We are upping the impact we have, and also motivating other attorneys.

What advice do you have for aspiring ICLC attorneys?
Hold the line. Be strong in your conviction to do community justice work. It is difficult and it is worth it.

Gary Blasi – an ICLC board member – once said about community lawyering “You get up in the morning to try and make a difference. And you get up the next morning and try again.” I thought this simply and beautifully captured the essence of our work as public interest attorneys.