Posted: February 28th, 2019 | By: Helen Morgan
Zachary Harris (JD ’20) spent his 1L summer with the Wake County Public Defender’s Office as a Felony Case Intern where he contributed to a first degree murder defense win.
Where do you call home?
Raleigh, North Carolina
Where did you study for your undergraduate degree?
North Carolina State University (Go State)
What did you major/minor in for your undergraduate degree?
Public and Interpersonal Communication with a minor in Nonprofits
Describe your 1L summer work experience. Was there any particular experience that stood out to you?
During my 1L summer, I worked as a Felony Case Intern at the Wake County Public Defender’s Office in Raleigh. Knowing that many defense attorneys defend people who have indeed committed the crimes with which they have been charged, I was a bit uneasy, but also optimistic that I would have the opportunity to better myself and serve the under-resourced.
What was most impactful was my work on a first degree murder case. Our client had been charged in the death of a young child. The defense team strongly and honestly believed he was innocent—something fairly unusual. He couldn’t meet his incredibly high bond, which meant he would stay in jail, away from his son, until his trial date.
I had the opportunity to pour myself into the work. Working for true justice—to free someone improperly imprisoned—was one of the most rewarding times of my life. I met our client, I met his family, and I saw what we were working towards.
I dug into the case law to head-off legal theories of attack with a newly barred attorney and briefed and talked case strategy with a legend in the Wake County Defense bar. In the end, our client went home to be with his son after being found not guilty of the murder charge.
Are you working in a specific area of law? If so, what do you find interesting about it?
My interest is in litigation, particularly trial practice. Some people are just built to be in front of a judge or jury. I guess I am one of them. I like the challenge of breaking down the complexity of the facts and law of a case for a jury or a judge unfamiliar with them.
Why did you decide to attend Wake Forest Law?
It was one of the first schools I visited and I didn’t realize how great it was. I figured Wake Forest was par for the course. It wasn’t until I started visiting other schools that I understood how exceptional Wake Forest was—far from average. When I would go sit at another school, inevitably I would end up talking about Wake Forest. That was a pretty good indicator of where I needed to be!
Describe the Wake Forest community.
I tend to turn everything into a sports analogy. Law School at Wake Forest reminds me of summer workouts on a football team. Substitute whatever team works for you.
Every player on the team is going through the same things. You’re all running laps, you’re all lifting weights, you’re all trying to get back on the field for that second practice of the day. There are moments when you’re all miserable and you know each other’s pain. There is a sense of unity that comes from that shared trial.
At the same time, you’re also competing. There is only one starter for each position, and if someone gets the starting spot that means you didn’t. So you compete, you do the best you can to try to earn that starting spot. But at the end of the day, you’re on the same team: you’re all there to better yourself and each other.
What is your most memorable experience during law school (thus far)?
It’s the little moments that I will remember and value at Wake Forest. Short conversations with my peers.
What are you involved in outside the classroom (i.e. student organizations, pro bono project, intramural sports, etc.?) How does this add value to your overall law school experience?
I am a member of the Wake Forest AAJ Trial team. Just being a member on this team has already made me a better trial advocate. We have incredible coaches who connect what I am learning in my classes with the actual practice of law.
What do you do for fun in Winston-Salem when you aren’t studying?
Anything with people. I like tossing the football around on fields around the law school, taking a short drive through the mountains, or trying a new restaurant downtown.
Where do you want your law degree to take you?
I want my law degree to give me opportunities to improve the lives of others—whatever that looks like.