Michael Harris ’20

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: Emory University 2013
Affiliations: Boalt Association of Military Veterans, Law Students of African Descent, Community Restorative Justice Project

I’m all about diversity of experiences. Not a lot of people join the military after graduating from a private university. I studied abroad in Germany for a year. It was during the Euro crisis and I got to know people from across Europe and I learned so much about what they were going through. I became really passionate about having some sort of influence on the world. I was attracted to the practical experience and team environment of the military and I wanted to push myself physically and mentally.

I decided to join the Army Reserves and at the same time I got a job as a civilian for the Department of Defense. My job was kind of a catch-all position supporting reservists. Training and preparing them for deployment, logistics of making sure supplies were in place and vehicles were in order. There was also administrative work, helping with substance abuse issues, sexual assault and harassment claims, onboarding and retirement paperwork. It was a lot of responsibility quickly, and I think that’s what I wanted and needed. You’re never sure how far you can go until it’s pushed upon you.

After that I wanted to help change some policies and the efficiency of bureaucratic institutions that I thought could be improved. So, I started on the law school journey. I was strategic and tailored about applying only to schools where I could see myself doing well academically and personally. Berkeley stands out as very public-service oriented and for the ability to start doing real client work in the community right away.

I’m still in the reserves and report to my unit one weekend a month. But now I’m a paralegal, which is great because that’s how I can best contribute. A lot of that work involves disciplinary action. We pride ourselves on having an all-volunteer force as opposed to a draft. So one of the great parts of my job is helping make sure people who are willing and able to serve can serve and that we’re not excluding anyone in an unfair way.

The transition to law school has been a little bit hard. The studying part is not too bad. But having tasks and responsibilities linked to people’s livelihoods and their readiness to go defend our country in war is a different world than reading cases from 100 years ago. It’s also a different mindset, where everyone is free to speak your mind and there’s less deference to authority. But being a part of the Boalt Association of Military Veterans has been a great support network where we share the same military values—rise together fall together.

In the military, people have very different political and ideological beliefs and ideas about what’s right. But when you start a mission, all of that is put to the side. Instead you’re all thinking, ‘how do we get this done together?’, ‘how do we make the team more effective?’ I think a law school, a city, a community, and a country should also keep those values in mind instead of saying ‘we can’t work together because we have different beliefs.’