Social justice advocate eyes career in criminal prosecution

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Photo courtesy of Carley Kavanaugh

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Carley Kavanaugh’s grandparents frequently took the family to dinner in Detroit’s Greektown district; and her grandfather would point out the Detroit Mercy Law School building and say, “That’s where you’ll go one day.”

True to her grandfather’s words, Kavanaugh is in her 2L year at Detroit Mercy Law and enjoying her legal studies.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing professors who will do anything to ensure their students’ success—evident by their willingness to meet with students and create a welcoming environment to ask questions and learn in,” she says. “I also enjoy the way students support each other. I’ve felt a community of encouragement and support since I first stepped into the building for orientation back in August 2019.”

Kavanaugh set her sights on a law career as early as second grade; and in her high school freshman year, spent a day shadowing a prosecutor around her office and observed her in court.

In undergrad, she studied political science and government at the University of Windsor with a minor in sociology and elective courses in psychology and gender studies.

She was trained to facilitate three-hour sexual assault prevention workshops for the “Bringing in the Bystander” campus initiative, focusing on the experiences of victims and perpetrators and their roles before, during and after sexually assaultive or violent acts. 

“Doing this work, I realized my passion is not government systems and politics, but advocation for social justice and to serve in a way to help protect my community,” she says.

So, she is particularly interested in criminal prosecution, specifically in the areas of sexual assault and child abuse/neglect cases.

“I want to use a career in criminal law to help protect both the community’s safety while seeking the truth and justice, and to help protect individuals who are wronged in our criminal justice system,” she says.  “I believe my background prior to and during law school will provide me with skills to be an effective and fair prosecutor.

“I also enjoyed performing in theatre for most of my high school and younger years, where I gained the confidence to speak comfortably before crowds of strangers—that will be benefit as a future litigator.”

In her current externship for Judge Mark Plawecki at the 20th District Court in Dearborn, Kavanaugh enjoys familiarizing herself with the court system and observing court proceedings, including arraignments, discovery requests, insurance claims, traffic violations, misdemeanors, felonies, and witness examinations.

This summer she will intern for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association of Michigan (PAAM), working at the Prosecutor’s Office in Livingston County.

“I’ll handle in-court assignments typically handled by assistant prosecutors while gaining experience in the practice of law and oral advocacy and observing the inner workings of the criminal justice system,” she says. “I’m thankful to have secured this position through the OCI process and am looking forward to gaining tremendous hands-on experience.”

While remote law school studies are not ideal, Kavanaugh is thankful for the skills it has taught her.

“I’ve had to really focus on acquiring motivation and energy to put myself in front of a screen for most of my days,” she says. “I’ve found getting dressed and ready for my day, as well as carving out time to walk my dog and get fresh air, has helped me stay more focused. I do miss the social interaction in-person learning provides, but the benefits of professors being a Zoom call away is sometimes beneficial.

“I also believe Zoom will remain part of the way courts operate for some proceedings beyond the pandemic, and so learning how an attorney must handle Zoom court will be helpful.”

Always passionate about giving back, Kavanaugh has been volunteering with charity organizations since 6th grade, including breast cancer research events and organizing high school level theatre competitions for local high schools.

She has volunteered since 10th grade with Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) –an annual leadership congress named for the late American actor and humanitarian—in Canada, and Michigan, as well as in Chicago and Los Angeles. Her roles in HOBY have included serving as a group facilitator for state seminars and the World Leadership Congress, as well as Director of Programs for Canada; and she currently serves as Director of Recruitment for the HOBY Michigan seminar where she oversee the recruitment and registration process for Michigan high schools.

She also had experience working in the retail and service industry, learning skills that will transfer to the field of law.

“Time management, multi-tasking, organization and operating within a fast-paced environment are all skills I’ve been able to strengthen prior to attending law school,” she says. “Having a strong work ethic and so much experience in customer service will allow me to successfully meet office and client goals.”

A lifelong resident of Windsor, Kavanaugh has three younger siblings and three step-siblings, and family members in Michigan, Kentucky, Georgia, Illinois, and Missouri.

A big fan of the great outdoors, she counts boating, kayaking, and hiking among her pursuits, and enjoys spending time in the sun or on trails with her chocolate Labrador, Millie. She also loves to travel and is looking forward to restrictions being lifted; as well as returning to normalcy in the Motor City.

“I love the atmosphere of Detroit—the city is full of positive energy and going to school within the hustle of it all is very motivating,” she says. “The history and culture is fascinating, and I’m excited to be part of the Detroit community as it continues to grow.”




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