Sarah Harris ’96: An Advocate for the Underserved

 

Sarah Harris

For Sarah Harris, integrity was something she saw modeled in her peers and professors at the College. Coming of age in Beaverton, Oregon, Harris felt instantly comfortable in Scripps’ intimate setting. “It wasn’t like 500 people sitting in a lecture hall,” she says. “There was a real sense of this tight-knit community. Everyone felt comfortable speaking up, both because of the small class size and because it was mostly women.”

Another factor: Harris says she came to understand how practicing law could mean more than reading briefs and arguing cases. “I was a precocious, chatty kid, and my whole life people told me I should be a lawyer,” she recalls. “A big part of why I eventually became one was because I met other women at Scripps who were lawyers who were doing something else, too.” One of her admission counselors, Barbara Finley, had a JD degree. And Nancy Bekavac, Scripps’ president at the time, had more than 10 years’ experience as a practicing attorney.

So Harris became one herself, committing a portion of her time to helping disadvantaged women and girls. While in law school at Northwestern University, she worked with juvenile girls in the Cook County Detention Center, instructing them about personal hygiene and Black History Month, as well as important details pertaining to their legal rights.

“On one hand, we were teaching them to understand their right to a lawyer and how not to incriminate themselves,” she says, “but mostly it was just spending time and engaging with them.”

After earning her own JD, Harris continued assisting young women and, for eight years, volunteered for LINK Unlimited Scholars, a high school scholarship and mentoring program for disadvantaged African American youth in Chicago. Her two protégés are both young women, four years apart: “My first LINK student graduates from Pomona in May,” she says proudly. “I already have my trip to Claremont planned.”

For the past nine years, Harris has also worked with The Law Project, a legal nonprofit whose attorneys provide pro bono support for entrepreneurs and 501(c)(3)s in underserved Chicago neighborhoods.

“My passion for The Law Project has been teaching entrepreneurship classes to groups of women,” Harris says. “They’re starting small businesses—daycare centers in their houses—and I make sure they’re protecting themselves and their personal assets. I love working with women who are trying to make life better for themselves and their kids.”

Balanced by her service work, Harris has lived a rich professional and personal life. She has traveled extensively, having worked as a partner at Baker & McKenzie, a global law firm with offices in 47 countries. Earlier, she was named an associate at Mayer Brown and served as vice president and general counsel of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club. Last year, she was named general counsel at Sikich, a Naperville, Illinois, professional services firm specializing in accounting, technology, investment banking, and advisory services.

“When I think about integrity, I feel the most important thing is to be myself—be true to myself,” she adds. “I take ethics very seriously, defending people’s rights and making sure the justice system works as well as it can.”

 

 

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