Attorney overcomes adversity to achieve a successful career


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

It’s been a long and challenging road for attorney L. Alisyn Crawford to her current position as a Medicaid long term care policy specialist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a role she thoroughly enjoys.

“Working as a policy specialist is tremendously rewarding,” she says. “I come to work with the mindset that Michiganders are the customer.”   

A Detroit native, Crawford lived in Massachusetts in her early teens before returning to the Motor City in her 8th grade year. Although homeschooling was recommended after she endured bullying in school, Crawford instead dropped out during her 10th grade year and worked full time at low paying fast food jobs, having 15 jobs before she was 19, including working at McDonald’s for only one day.

After her grandmother, an educator and school administrator, encouraged her to take a creative writing course at a community college, Crawford decided to take her GED in 2002, scoring above average in reading comprehension and social studies.

Wanting a good life for herself and her infant daughter, Crawford started undergrad classes at the University of Massachusetts Boston, cramming in as many classes as possible to earn her degree in psychology and sociology in the shortest possible time frame.

“Since a child, I’ve been told I have common sense and a good listening ear,” she says. “With these characteristics, I felt studying human and group behaviors would enhance my abilities to help others.”

Crawford thought of earning a doctorate degree in psychology and providing direct care to those with mental health needs. However, in undergrad, she quickly became aware of the access barriers that existed for mental health services.

“The system was broken and the best way to fix a broken system is through law and policy changes,” she says.

During a visit to her sister, who was studying at Northeastern University, Crawford passed the university’s law school — and set her heart on entering its hallowed halls. Not only was she accepted, she landed a scholarship — and while studying for her law degree, also earned a master’s degree in Public Health from Tufts University School of Medicine.

  “My public health degree furthered my interest in asking the fundamental question of ‘why,’” she says. “Both my legal and public health background have enabled me to focus my decision-making on the social determinants of health, achieving health equity, and using law and policy to produce positive outcomes in the community.”

Despite her struggles — including taking the LSAT and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) twice — Crawford aced the State Bar of Michigan bar exam on her first attempt after studying hard for seven weeks, mainly in the evenings after putting her daughter to bed. She learned of her bar exam success while picking her daughter up from soccer practice — and celebrated by buying the child a new bike.

Crawford, who also teaches paralegal courses as an adjunct professor at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, has given back to others by serving as community outreach chair for the Wolverine Bar Association, coordinating free legal education programs, pro bono services and charitable events focusing on helping people in Metro Detroit, and providing support to high school and law students through diversity pipeline initiatives. Events included the Wayne County Child Support Help Program, Youth Mental Health First Aid Training with Common Ground, and Gleaners Community Food Bank volunteer event.

She also spent a year on the SBM Committee of Law Related Education and Public Outreach, and currently is the communications officer for the Davis-Dunnings Bar Association.

“The DDBA mission is to foster the professional growth and development of its members,” she says. “The benefits of membership are felt by all engaged members and by the community our members serve.” 

The now married, mother of two, who previously worked as an attorney adviser for the Social Security Administration, was inspired by her mother, a single parent of four, who completed medical school; and by her grandmother, a mother of nine who earned her doctorate in education. In turn, she hopes to inspire others, and is working on a book she hopes to complete by fall, focused on her journey, as well as the diverse journey of 12 other women who have fought against adversities.

“My hope is to show by example that obstacles and so-called failures are just opportunities for success, learning, and continuous improvement,” she says.

In her leisure time, Crawford enjoys spending time with her husband, and daughters, ages 3 and 11.

“We enjoy family date nights, being tourists in nearby cities and towns, and listening to music,” she says.

She also enjoys living and working in the state’s capital.

“Being a city girl from Detroit, Lansing is a different landscape for me,” she says. “I enjoy the differences, though. I love seeing the excitement on my daughters’ faces when we pass a herd of cows on our ten-minute commute to their school. And we still have more to discover and learn.”