Alum's Leap from STEM to Law Was Fate

When it comes to achievement, Michael A. Harris has not missed a beat while following his dreams. His unconventional journey includes military service, a turn as a professional musician, and an engineering career spanning more than a decade.

On top of those wide-ranging pursuits, political science and government are also among his interests. Seeking to become versed in both areas, he turned to Virginia Peninsula Community College several years ago while working in his field. 

“I initially had no desire to get any higher-level education after I finished the Navy. I did nuclear operations and engineering in the Navy, and I thought that would take me where I wanted to go professionally,” he recalled. “Then I had a change of heart … change of thought process ... that drove me into higher education."

“At the time, I was trying to get involved in or just have knowledge of civics … of the things that go on around us every day … not just locally, but in the world. I think I took international relations, political geography, government classes, and subjects of that nature,” added Harris, who earned an associate degree in social science in 2012.  

He took a one-year break from school before earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a homeland security specialization from St. Leo University in 2015. 

A desire to serve a deeper purpose led him to shift from STEM. In May 2023, Harris earned a J.D. from Regent University, passed the bar shortly after, and closed the year in grand fashion. The newly minted legal professional established Michael A. Harris Law, PLLC in October. Harris is the principal attorney for the Peninsula-based firm.  

“Although I’ve only been on the job (a short time), I’ve been exposed to the field much longer. I was interested in politics and government for a while. (Practicing law) goes hand in hand with a lot of that,” he noted.

The Tyler, Texas, native landed in Hampton Roads in 2004 while in the Navy and settled in Hampton after leaving the service in 2009. He immersed himself in the community on various fronts. 

“I did six years in the Navy. After that, I did a few things – some in tandem. A lot of people knew me as a singer ... a guitarist. I had a full band. … I’ve been on local and regional (TV and radio) shows. That was in tandem with being an engineer tech for about 13 years,” he said. 

Harris adjusted to civilian life and had stints in vibrational analysis and nuclear propulsion with Vibration Analysis Inc. and Newport News Shipbuilding, respectively. He stayed keen on politics and government, too, knowing he wanted to make more meaningful contributions to the community. He served on the Board of Zoning Appeals for the City of Hampton, is chair of the Planning Commission for the City of Hampton, and twice ran for public office. 

His new role is the perfect vehicle for his aims. He is committed to addressing the lack of representation in underserved communities and hopes to create opportunities for others, particularly minorities, in the legal profession.

"Law is the basis and foundation of our society," said Harris. “When I started getting really involved on a community level, I saw that there was a lack of representation not only in the courtroom but also at city and state level tables and at the national level. I thought that was the best field to go into to be the most effective.  

"I always believed God put me in a position to have the mind ... to have the will, and to have the ability to represent others. With law, the biggest thing is service - service to your client,” he added.

Harris doesn’t take his new position lightly and understands it’s multifaceted.  

“You must be not only a good listener but an advocate, mediator, counselor. You have to have an overview of what’s best for the client and be able to tell them that, even if it’s against their wishes. All those things are important,” he stressed. 

Harris, although busy building his firm, hasn’t put civic engagement on the back burner. The past VPCC Alumni Council chair, who stills serves in an advisory capacity, is a South Hampton Roads Bar Association member and youth mentor. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Notably, he received the 2023 Public Servant Award from the Black Men Rock Scholarship Foundation and was recognized among the top 40 under 40 for Hampton Roads by Inside Business in 2020.

In other interests, he enjoys visiting museums and nature parks, learning about new cultures, sports, and music, which is top among all. The singer-songwriter describes his music as "life music" or alternative soul, drawing inspiration from diverse artists such as Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughn, BJ the Chicago Kid, and India Aire.

A father of two, son (5) and daughter (15), Harris appreciates the support of his family, mentors and close friends. Despite his impressive accomplishments, he remains grounded and focused, whether connecting with people through his music, engaging in community service or striving for excellence in the legal field.

“I love people ... listening to people, learning from people, seeing things from their point of view so I can get a better idea of how to be a better person myself," he said.

"I think because of the way I grew up in very humble beginnings … I respect people, and my goal is really to serve and to use my talents that God has given me to the best of my ability while I still have life,” he added.