Part of the Plan Charisma Hunter '23L becomes first African American Woman on Law Review.
Charisma Hunter ‘23L made history this year when she was selected as a staff writer for the Law Review, becoming the first African American woman to serve on the journal.
And while Hunter is still grappling with the significance of this milestone, her path to this point has been in the works for many years, part of a plan she launched some 15 years ago while growing up in the small southwestern Virginia town of Norton.
Hunter said she decided to become a lawyer in the third grade, motivated by a desire to help people. She recalled dressing in business attire for a career day and being met with skepticism about her career objective.
“They thought ‘this Black girl isn’t going to make it out of this small town,’ and I decided then I would prove them wrong one day.”
Hard work and dedication run in her family. Her father has always worked labor intensive jobs and her mother is a community living specialist, working with mentally disabled adults. “My parents instilled diligence and perseverance in me for as long as I can remember. Not only did they teach it to me via basic parental and child dialogue, but also through their actions.”
Hunter brought all that drive to getting into her top choice for college and law school. In high school, she participated in volleyball, softball, cheerleading, band, theater, forensics and track, “anything I could get involved with to build my resume and show that I could achieve many things and thrive.”
She was accepted to Virginia Tech early decision, and because she began taking college courses during her sophomore year of high school, she was able graduate from Virginia Tech in only three years, becoming the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree. Despite her accelerated timeframe, she was very involved in the university community, working for a student group that raises funds for the childhood cancer charity Special Love and as vice president for membership and recruitment chair for her college sorority.
“At Virginia Tech I was extremely involved because I knew that it would be the people I met that would shape my undergraduate career into what I wanted to be; a learning experience full of growth in many facets of life.” A major in political science with a focus on legal studies, she also served as an admissions ambassador for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
After graduating, she interned in Washington, DC for the United States Fashion Industry Association and earned the George Peabody Award in an ethics and leadership course from a summer program she participated in. She fell in love with the heterogeneity and diversity of DC and sought out employment in the nation’s capital. She spent a year working as a legal assistant before applying to law schools around DC and in Virginia.
When deciding on whether to attend W&L Law, she said “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to return to a small town in Virginia, especially one without the family history I have in Norton.” And while her first year in Lexington was not without its struggles, Hunter is grateful for the “phenomenal community in the law school that made her feel accepted and welcome.”
Like most students, Hunter’s 1L year was in hybrid format due to COVID, with some classes in person and others online. As demanding as the first year of law school is, she knew the Write On process for selecting new staff writers was waiting for her just two days after final exams. She learned while working as a legal assistant how important experience on a law journal can be for developing legal writing and research skills and also helping with job searches.
“Completing my Write On submission was one of the hardest things I have done in law school,” she said. “But I just stuck to my plan. I wanted to be part of something big, to get the chance to work with people from all over the country, even internationally.”
Hunter was in Brooklyn for her summer job as a judicial intern for the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of New York when she learned she had been selected as a staff writer for Law Review.
“I was in shock,” she said. “It was an incredible feeling to say the least.”
With the semester now underway, Hunter is busy cite checking articles and also developing her Note topic, which will examine the intersection of fashion and the law as it relates to the Fourth Amendment, reasonable suspicion and probable cause standards—and its impact on marginalized communities. Next summer will find her in Charlotte as a summer associate for McGuireWoods.
History is important to Hunter. Her great grandmother was born in former slave housing on a plantation in Southwest Virginia and spent her life cleaning houses—the only work available to her. This is one of several ways systemic racism affected her family. As Hunter considered her own place in the Law School’s history, she marveled at how far she has come.
“I am euphoric. Shattering glass ceilings and paving the way for other Black students at the law school means so much to me.”
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