Kelly Orians graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Colorado at Boulder where her thesis addressed the effect of public housing policy on the lives of mothers in Brooklyn, New York whose children were involved in the criminal justice system. After graduating she worked for three years at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana in New Orleans, Louisiana managing a statewide advocacy campaign to end the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole JLWOP. She helped create public policy and impact litigation strategies, including the implementation of the Graham v. Florida decision, which made JLWOP unconstitutional in non-homicide cases. Kelly worked on the legal team that secured the release of the first two people in the country under Graham, drove them home from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and continues today to assist them with their reentry.
Through this work Kelly was exposed to the many barriers people and their families face when someone returns home from prison and began taking innovative approaches to combat the lack of reentry resources in New Orleans. In 2012 Kelly was accepted into the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law where she specialized in critical race studies, and business law and policy.
In May 2015, she received her Juris Doctorate from UCLA School of Law, and later that year, she was awarded an Echoing Green Fellowship to launch Rising Foundations, a community development corporation dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated people become business owners and homeowners. Today Rising Foundations is a division of The First 72+ promoting economic empowerment services. In May of 2016 she was sworn into the Louisiana State Bar. Kelly has received the Richard Cornuelle Award for Social Entrepreneurship from the Manhattan Institute, a fellowship from the Global Good Foundation, The Michael Rubinger Fellowship for Community Development from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and in 2019 she was named a "Leader in Law" by New Orleans City Business.