Feature Stories UMass Law: Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24: From draftsman and illustrator to lawyer

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Feature Stories UMass Law: Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24: From draftsman and illustrator to lawyer
Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24: From draftsman and illustrator to lawyer

After making a career change, Gruneberg says law is "what I was meant to do"

For 10 years, Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24 enjoyed a career in architectural design, drafting and modeling buildings, while also crafting his skills in pen and ink illustration. He graduated from Roger Williams University's architecture program with a dual bachelor's and master's degree and concentration in architectural history. 

He assisted with the design of local projects such as the Moby Dick Brew Pub in New Bedford, the Greater New Bedford Regional Health Center, and residential buildings in Providence and Newport, RI.   

With time to reflect during the pandemic, Gruneberg decided to shift the direction of his career. A strong interest in environmental and animal rights led him to UMass Law, where he published research, completed internships at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General and the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and represented the UMass Law client counseling team in this year's competition. 

Halfway through law school, Gruneberg experienced another major life change: parenthood. He and his wife, Elena, are the parents of a 15-month-old daughter, Flora, whom Gruneberg says is the inspiration for developing his new career in law. 

Examples of illustrations
Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24 with some of his detailed illustrations of buidings. He spent 10 years working in architectural design, drafting and modeling buildings before deciding to go to law school.


What did you do in your former career as an illustrator and draftsman?  

"In the decade before attending law school, I worked for several design firms on residential, institutional, and commercial projects. I also spent significant time working on pen and ink illustrations, which were my passion for a long time. 

"I still love architecture and drawing, but I was never sure what the future looked like. The architecture world gave me a unique set of transferrable skills, combining attention to detail and technical understanding with creativity and an open mind."

Why did you decide to attend law school? 

"By the time Covid set in, there were interests that became very important in my life, such as environmental and animal rights, along with a desire to better understand complex societal issues and help explain them in clear terms. I thought that if I was going to learn to understand these issues, I should also do the work to try and solve them. This, combined with a longtime interest in the profession of law, prompted me to pursue law school."  

As a parent, how did you manage attending law school full-time with family responsibilities?  

"My wife, Elena, has enabled my law career dreams and is the best mom our daughter could ask for. Becoming a parent in the middle of law school was by no means easy, but it also provided wonderful perspective. Law school is a privilege and an amazing opportunity, but the pressures of school can—and should—be balanced with real life experiences. Time management is one of the most important skills a lawyer can develop, and being a parent puts that to the test right away. I want to spend as much time with our daughter as possible, so planning and efficiency are key."

What was it like attending law school a little later in life?  

"Personally, I would not have achieved the academic success and career opportunities afforded to me had I attended law school at an earlier point in my life. I am extremely impressed with my classmates who, at a relatively young age, have succeeded in law school and set up great futures for themselves already. My enjoyment of law school, though, really benefits from past professional and life experiences." 

Family photo
Matthew Gruneberg, his wife, Elena, and their daughter, Flora, who was born in the middle of Gruneberg's law school years.

UMass Law experience 

How did you choose UMass Law? 

"UMass Law is local to our home and, as a public law school, it exhibited many of the values I sought in my new endeavor to better understand the world."  

What led to your interest in animal rights/environmental law and your research paper? 

"I have always loved nature and wildlife and, as a vegetarian my mind has been drawn to understanding how our food choices impact the lives of animals and the world around us. My article was the link between my personal interests and the legal mechanisms which are available to address those issues." 

How was your experience working with a faculty member on your research paper? 

"The faculty at UMass Law are extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and a pleasure to work with. Professor Faisal Chaudhry was my environmental law professor and helped tremendously by asking critical questions that grounded my discussion in the law and shined a light on different perspectives. The environmental law course was foundational in understanding the issues discussed in my article—and later at my internship." 

How did it feel to see your paper published? 

"It was amazing! I was very excited to see something I had thought and cared about for so long affirmed and sent out into the world as a legal resource. Additionally, the publisher—the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law—was a pleasure to work with. They are highly regarded as leaders in environmental legal education, and it was truly an honor to be published by them."

Were you involved in any activities or organizations at UMass Law? 

"I am vice president of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. Our goal is to raise awareness of legal issues around animal rights."

A participant on this year’s UMass Lawclient counseling team that competed at Boston University, Gruneberg enjoyed the experience. "We learned valuable skills and we represented UMass Law quite well. I give credit to Dean (Julie) Cahill, who was our coach." 

Has there been an experience that has been especially rewarding?  

 "I had the honor of interning for the Rhode Island Attorney General and the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Both experiences were the result of meeting fantastic people at UMass Law who provided the necessary education, mentorship, and confidence that allowed me to participate effectively in the legal field."

 At the RI Attorney General's office, Gruneberg worked in the environmental & energy unit. In working to enforce the Clean Air and Water Act, Gruenberg did research, helped draft memos to the court, and utilized what he learned in his environmental law class directly in the field. 

At the RI Supreme Court, Gruneberg was a judicial intern, researching upcoming cases and drafting summaries that offered his perspective on fact and law. "Interning with the Supreme Court was such a special experience, and something I will cherish forever." 

What have you enjoyed most about UMass Law? 

"My favorite part about UMass Law is the small school size and camaraderie amongst students. Every time I go into the building I see people, both faculty and students, that I want to have a discussion with, and I feel like I am part of a wonderful community. We all want everyone else to succeed."

Client counseling team practice
Matthew Gruneberg practices for the Client Counseling Competition with his partner, Alana Levy.

Future plans 

Gruneberg entered UMass Law prepared to focus on environmental law but exposure to many areas of the law made him realize that his skills are transferable. He plans to take the Rhode Island bar exam in July and is excited to explore future opportunities. 

Do you feel UMass Law prepared you for your legal career? 

"Absolutely. I have been given opportunities to provide meaningful work in the legal field that I honestly NEVER imagined I would be capable of. UMass Law provided a fundamental legal education, along with the encouragement, confidence, and guidance to put it to use."

What advice would you give future UMass Law students? 

"If you set your mind to something, you CAN do it. You never know what you are capable of until you go for it. It took me over 30 years to even consider becoming a lawyer. Now that I am entering this profession, though, I am certain it is what I was meant to do. You may never know your potential until you try something new."