Student relished externship at MSU Tax Law Clinic

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Frank Harrison didn’t get off to a stellar academic start in his teens but, after dropping out of high school, he later got back on track — and now is a 3L at Michigan State University College of Law.

“The main cause was simply reflecting on how my choice was effecting my younger brother’s own academic journey,” he said. “Simply put, it was difficult to encourage him to ‘stick the course’ and keep at it when I didn't — so it was simply a matter of having to swallow my pride, go get my GED, and then re-start on my own academic journey.”

That journey has been a great success. Harrison’s most recent achievement was receiving a Peggy Browning Fellowship that provides stipends to law students who dedicate their summer to advancing the cause of workers' rights by working for labor unions, worker centers, labor-related not-for-profit organizations, union-side law firms and other nonprofit organizations. Harrison interviewed at eight places through the Peggy Browning Fund. He ultimately landed at the Satter Ruhlen Law Firm in Syracuse — a firm that had been his No. 1 choice.

“I’ve been able to get more experience in doing both labor and employment law, getting experience in trial prep, arbitration hearings, and a swath of New York specific administrative hearings,” he said. “It’s been an interesting challenge of coming into New York with no real knowledge of New York State law but I’ve been brought along well by all the attorneys.”

It’s a far cry from Harrison’s post-high school years, stocking shelves or working the cash register at retail stores, with no particular career goal. He also earned an EMT license, but didn’t work in that field. His last job was working in logistics.

Returning to academia, the Coldwater native earned his undergrad degree in economics and philosophy from Western Michigan University, attracted by how both disciplines are naturally abstract.
Heading to MSU Law in 2020, Harrison has enjoyed the “Spartan” culture.

“There’s a great sense of collaboration among students here despite the fact we’re in ‘competition’ with each other in the sense of the curve, class grade…despite essentially competing with each other, every student I've interacted with here has been willing to collaborate, share ideas, and share notes — and that, in itself, is really special.”

As a mature student, Harrison can see both approaches — enrolling in law school immediately or delaying the decision to gain more real-world experience —come with their own set of trade-offs but that both have benefits.

“For me, the benefits of waiting to go to law school are pretty straightforward,” he said. “I knew how to navigate an office setting. I knew how to interact with supervisors, with colleagues, and with co-workers. I have a better idea of how to ‘network’ with people and since I’m collaborating with people closer to my own age, it’s more of a natural conversation to have with them.

“On the other hand, I wasn’t interested in participating in law review — something that would have been a huge boon to my career — because I didn’t feel I had the time or energy to commit to it. If I was a standard K-JD, I would have jumped at law review.”

Coming from a working-class family, Harrison is passionate about helping people with similar backgrounds.

“I had firsthand experience knowing how difficult it is for working class families both from a legal standpoint, such as finding affordable representation, and from a regular life standpoint,” he said. “It was knowing how my dad got burned working as an independent carpenter because he did business with a handshake and not a contract. It was knowing the health problems my uncles suffered from because they worked in foundries with inadequate PPE—this is also why I’m interested in collective bargaining and labor law. When there’s an imbalance in bargaining power between employers and employees, bad things happen.”

“Since we cannot expect businesses to act against their self-interest, the obvious solution is to strengthen the bargaining position of employees to broach the imbalance of bargaining positions and thus encourage more competitive markets.”

In his 1L summer, Harrison interned at the National Labor Relations Board, learning about Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) cases.

“I wanted real legal experience and as much of it as I could get my hands on. And that’s exactly what I was offered.”

 Harrison highly recommends the NLRB summer position.

“They have work available for you and if you’re willing to put in the work, they will let you build the kind of experience which is extremely marketable.”

Earlier this year, Harrison worked at the MSU Law Alvin L. Storrs Low Income Tax Clinic.

“I wanted to be as hands-on and get as much experience as I could — I’m very much a kinesthetic learner, so I learn best when I’m actively doing law,” he said.  “While the freedom to handle cases and build legal experience was the same, the work itself was a night-and-day difference.

“At the board, you're an independent third party investigating ULP allegations either raised by unions, individual employees, or businesses. You're not there to pick a side. In contrast, the work at the tax clinic is advocacy work. You’re assigned a set amount of clients and you’re trying your best to progress their cases and hopefully deliver to them the best result you possibly can get. I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with clients, get to know them on a personal level, and advocate on their behalf.

“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to meet with someone and while you’re not able to solve all of their problems, you’re able to find a resolution to their tax problem and give them some degree of relief.”

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