Four sisters never planned to attend the same law school. But as luck would have it, it happened anyway. The Serassio sisters include Melanie ('98), Helen ('00), Carey ('02) and Serena ('07), each with a unique story as to how they ended up at Utah Law.
“There was no pressure to become an attorney. Our mom was interested in law school, but never attended. It must have rubbed off in-utero. Education was important, and our parents gave us the tools to do well in school,” says Melanie, the oldest of 11 children (eight girls and three boys).
Her mother, Julia, recalls that attending Utah Law was a no-brainer for her daughters.
“Emotionally, I am overwhelmed at the achievements of Melanie, Helen, Carey and Serena as attorneys and compassionate women. Their desire to attend the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law was no surprise because I always thought it was one of the best law schools,” she says.
As a young mother, Melanie put her chances in the hands of fate and in one basket—the Utah Law basket—when it came to applying to law school.
“I just figured if it was meant to be, they would accept me,” she says.
In contrast, Helen (number three of 11) had a clear vision of becoming an environmental lawyer intent on saving the world. Had late Dean Lee E. Teitelbaum not asked why Helen hadn’t submitted her acceptance letter yet, she would have ended up at an alternative law school. It turns out that Helen’s admission letter got lost in the mail.
“I didn't know I could call Admissions and say, ‘Excuse me, why haven’t I heard from you yet?’ This was a whole new path for us that we were charting and that we didn't really experience before,” Helen says.
Carey (number four of 11) went the law school route in order “to make money,” but then ended up being a passionate advocate for her clients and helping people throughout her career.
Meanwhile, Serena (number six of 11) had a childhood dream of becoming a lawyer, so life and education focused on this goal—but she was waitlisted. On a visit to see sister Helen in Washington, D.C., Serena’s call finally came through. She’d been admitted to Utah Law.
“I still laugh at how many of the professors at the U who didn’t realize we were all siblings,” Serena recalls. “We all look alike. We all have the same name. That smile on every single one of us is identical.”
The sisters attended Utah Law within a twelve-year period, and most of their law school years overlapped. When Melanie was in her third year, Helen was in her first. When Helen was in her third year, Carey was in her first. Then, one year after Carey’s graduation, Serena started law school.
Within that timeframe, the sisters were always passing down knowledge and generously helping each other tackle the rigors of law school.
“It was a privilege to have Melanie already experience what I was going to be experiencing in law school. She gave me insight, set me up with the books I needed, introduced me to other 3Ls to help build my community, and helped demystify the experience. We’re first-generation lawyers in our family, so to have her already experience that was a treat,” Helen says. “I really tried to pay it forward when Carey started. I wanted to give her the same leg up that Melanie had given me.”
And when Serena began law school, Carey provided the most recent guidance on navigating school, while Melanie and Helen were not far off.
“I definitely benefitted from them, not only graduating and starting their careers first, but all the wisdom that they had getting through everything. There was a lot that we learned from each other because we did this process together,” Serena says.
The sisters took different paths in their legal careers. Both Melanie and Serena are criminal prosecutors—Melanie specializes in child homicide cases in Salt Lake County while Serena lives in Arizona and specializes in DUI vehicular crimes. Helen moved to Washington, D.C., soon after law school and works for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Carey practiced at a small boutique law firm in Salt Lake City covering a wide variety of cases, such as elderly law, estates and trusts, bankruptcy, and insurance. She retired from practice in April 2021 as a Senior Associate with Dyer Law Group and passed away from cancer on November 25, 2022, at age 44.
Family and friends recall the countless stories of Carey’s extraordinary efforts to care for her clients and to help others.
When Helen’s friend’s father was dying and needed help with his estate, “Carey literally hangs up the phone with me, runs down to my friend’s house—her paralegal in tow to notarize everything—and she writes the will that night,” Helen recalls. “She has a shot of whiskey with my friend’s dad (because he was Irish and liked his whiskey), toasts him to it, and does it all pro bono.”
Carey was highly respected among her peers as well and received a Preeminent AV Ranking in 2010.
“She was the best right-hand lawyer I ever had,” Phil Dyer, founder and senior trial counsel at Dyer Law Group, says. “She was very dedicated and thorough in her work.”
Carey was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, the Utah State Bar, and Federal Court Bar in addition to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, American Association of Justice and Utah Association of Justice (co-founder of the UAJ Women’s Caucus, created in 2013).
As the Serassio sisters practice in different fields and live in different states, they don’t often get to work together on legal projects. Now, however, Melanie, Helen and Serena are honoring their late sister’s memory by working to establish the Carey Serassio Seager Memorial Scholarship in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
“We want people to remember this amazing woman. The law and justice meant so much to Carey, especially women in the law,” Helen says.
Melanie notes that simply working within law was not enough for Carey.
“We also want to promote excellence, kindness, and compassion as an attorney,” she says.
The Serassio family held a celebration-of-life cocktail party in Carey's honor on Nov. 28 and matched scholarship donations up to the first $4,000 donated. Friends and alumni can continue to donate online.