Student Spotlight: Kaya Lawrence ’24

Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar

Kaya Lawrence
Kaya Lawrence ’24

Tell us about your experience in the Criminal Defense and Reentry Clinic. (CDRC)
CDRC has been one of the most valuable experiences of my time at NYU Law. While working under the mentorship of Professor Vincent Southerland, we have discussed what it means to work within a system built to harm people of color and how that shapes our advocacy on behalf of our clients and on behalf of the communities within which we work. 

Through the clinic’s seminar, I’ve gotten to learn about the role of a public defender during a client’s case as well as work on developing practical trial skills. Through my fieldwork placement at the Brooklyn Defender Services, I have had the opportunity to conduct legal research and write motions on clients’ behalf, write cross-examinations for suppression hearings, prepare for trial, and represent clients at arraignments. This clinic has been influential in shaping my understanding of what it means to be an effective advocate and has solidified my desire to pursue a career in public defense.

What lessons or takeaways have you gained from experience as a Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar? (RTK)
The Root community always serves as a source of inspiration, motivation, and support for me. I am honored to be amongst such a vibrant group of critical thinkers and advocates. The RTK community has provided me with lifelong friendships that I will always be able to turn to as I navigate the challenges of pursuing a career in public interest and working within an unjust system.
What first inspired you to pursue a career in law?
I come from a system-impacted family, so I’ve been aware of the injustices of the criminal legal system from a young age. My experiences have motivated me to work towards dismantling the system on a broader level and reducing the harm suffered by those on an individual level.   

What do you enjoy most about being in New York City?
I’m a big foodie, so diversity of cuisine is definitely a highlight of NYC!

Posted on June 8, 2023