Carissa Lavin grew up in Luling, Louisiana, the third of five children. Luling is a small suburb about 25 miles from New Orleans—the type of place where everyone knows everyone. So, when it came time for college, Lavin wanted to go to a large city, which drew her to Georgia State University.
“I came two weeks early my freshman year for band camp, and I remember being on Google Maps for a solid two weeks,” Lavin recalls.
The diversity on campus and the hustle and bustle of Atlanta were the initial attraction, but the bachelor’s/J.D. dual degree program sweetened the deal. While earning her bachelor’s degree in public policy she started taking law classes, so that she would complete both degrees in six years instead of seven—and at a lower cost.
“It shouldn’t go unnoted that we are one of the best value law schools in the nation, and we have graduates working at the same firms as more expensive schools in the state,” Lavin said. “It’s really liberating to know that I am not going to graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars of law school debt.”
She says she felt immediately welcomed into the College of Law community because of the attentive faculty. That sense of community was critical for her since her passion for advocacy budded early.
“My oldest sister has special needs,” Lavin said. “Growing up, I felt very protective of her and I wanted to make sure she was always treated fairly. That sparked my interest in advocacy. Plus, being one of five kids, you’re debating all the time, so my parents would always say, ‘Carissa, you should go to law school.’”
Now, in her final year of law school, she has no regrets about her experiences. She looks fondly over her time in Professor Samuel Donaldson’s Wills, Trusts & Estates class, where the class put on a production of “King Lear.” She’s also taken advantage of unique opportunities such as going on an Alternative Spring Break trip to the Stewart Immigration Detention Center and helping immigrants seeking asylum. This summer, she interned in the litigation department at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith.
One of Lavin’s most important experiences has been with the Georgia State chapter of OUTlaw, an organization for LGBTQ+ law students. The legal profession still lags behind some others in making sure that LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable being out, and through OUTlaw many students find confidence and community. Lavin and her fellow officers have hosted a variety of events such as marching in the Atlanta Pride Parade and moderating a panel discussion with attorneys from Stonewall who share their experiences of the legal profession.
“I have never felt out of place at Georgia State, because of my sexual orientation,” Lavin said. “I joined OUTlaw my first year of law school, and it’s been so important for me. It’s a place for people to feel like they have a chance to be heard, whether it’s talking about Supreme Court cases, academic struggles or living in a pandemic.”
As she readies for graduation, her eye toward advocacy has sharpened. Making sure that all people live with dignity is mission critical for her, and in addition to exploring other areas of advocacy, she wants to continue to work on asylum cases. She credits the shared investment of her classmates and of faculty with helping her find her place.
“People are willing to help, they care and they’re invested in their classmates,” Lavin said. “The community at Georgia State is unlike any stereotypical law school experience.”
Interview by Kelundra Smith