Three University of Virginia School of Law alumni — Julia Pierce ’98, Chinh Q. Le ’00 and Michelle Harrison ’12 — will be honored for their public service work at the third annual Shaping Justice conference Feb. 9.
A ceremony and lunch will be held in the Law School’s Caplin Pavilion, starting at 1 p.m. All conference events are open to the public with registration.
Lee and Pierce will receive the Shaping Justice Award for Extraordinary Achievement. Le is legal director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Pierce is deputy associate general counsel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Branch Public Health Division.
Harrison, a staff attorney at EarthRights International, will receive the Shaping Justice Rising Star Award.
Julia Pierce ’98
Pierce, a member of the Lumbee tribe, is the highest-level Indian law attorney at HHS. For many years, she served as team leader for the attorneys participating on teams that negotiate the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act contracts with Indian tribes, which allow tribes to operate their own hospitals and clinics.
Pierce’s father was a trailblazing Native American attorney and his murder during a campaign for a judgeship in North Carolina persuaded her to follow in his footsteps as a lawyer serving communities like hers.
At UVA, she was president of the Native American Student Union.
Her advice to young lawyers is to chart a path but to also embrace changes.
“If you don’t succeed in all your efforts, forgive yourself and try again, or try something else,” Pierce said. “Remember to thank all who help you along the way. You will never be sorry that you spent your life pursuing a career that you feel is worthy of your time and efforts.”
Emily Levine ’98, a senior attorney at HHS, nominated Pierce. She said her colleague oversees complex negotiations and has been integrally involved in developing the government’s litigation position in Indian law cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chinh Q. Le ’00
Le, who also earned a bachelor’s with high distinction and master’s from UVA, oversees the Legal Aid Society’s legal program, which includes 60 attorneys and 10 legal assistants, intake coordinators and case managers.
Le said the honor is a testament to everyone who played a role in affording him the fulfilling and rewarding career he has enjoyed. He encouraged young lawyers interested in public service to seek out positive mentors and stay undeterred by failures along the way.
“UVA and UVA Law in particular were places where I was lucky to find so many professors and mentors who went out of their way to share their wisdom and advice, guide me toward the path that was right for me, and then help me get on and stay on that path,” he said.
He is a former Skadden Fellow and notes editor of the Virginia Law Review.
One alum who nominated Le was Carolyn Rumer ’14, an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Legal Aid Society’s Public Benefits Unit, who as a 1L was inspired to enter public service by hearing Le talk at UVA Law.
“During his eight years at Legal Aid, Chinh has helped to bring about countless changes, within our organization and beyond, that have led to greater access to justice for those living in poverty, as well as important systemic changes that are leading to a more equitable D.C.,” Rumer wrote in nominating Le.
Michelle Harrison ’12
Harrison serves as counsel on EarthRights International’s transnational cases, including ones heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. At UVA Law, she received the Robert F. Kennedy ’51 Public Service Fellowship to work with ERI for a year, after which she worked as a Bertha Legal Fellow for two years.
“I love what I do, it’s both challenging and rewarding,” she said, “and I’m constantly inspired by the strength and courage of the individuals and communities we represent in what are often long, difficult cases against far more powerful actors.”
Harrison was nominated by several alumnae. They said she fights tirelessly to ensure that her clients have a voice when seeking justice against the world’s largest companies, often traveling to remote regions worldwide.
Recipients were selected by a committee comprised of public service faculty, administrators and student leaders.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.