When Warren Harris took on the role of University of Houston Law Alumni Association president in 2009, his watchword was “involvement” – both firsthand and via checkbook. During his two-year tenure he has succeeded in both areas, bringing more alums into the classroom, convincing board members to roll up their sleeves for “hands on” committee work, and increasing alumni contributions.
“When I took over the organization it was time for it to change to keep up with the times,” Harris said. “I wanted to create new programs for alumni involvement and provide a platform for alumni to network. Previously, that was not in the culture of the organization, but now the organization is more than 13,000 members strong and moving in a great direction.”
With the help of the board, he supported an ambitious slate of projects, events and initiatives including an outreach program called “A Day in the Life.” As part of the program, outstanding alumni visited the Law Center to deliver simple lunchtime talks about what they do during an average day at the office. Students not only heard candid perspectives about what being a lawyer is all about, they also learned that UH Law alumni care about law students.
During Harris’ tenure, the Board of Directors has also undergone a considerable transformation. “The board has transitioned into a working, hands-on board,” Harris said. “Every board member runs a substantial program and makes a significant financial contribution to the organization. That is what is best for the Law Center and the organization.”
By working with the board and other alumni, Harris built the UH Law Alumni Association into a powerful group of supporters who value the excellence of their alma mater. He rebranded the highest level donor group, the Dean’s Society. Through Harris’ hard work and diligence, the Society reached 100 members strong in approximately one year. Members of the group make an annual $2,500 contribution. “The success of the group changed the entire landscape of alumni contribution,” Harris said. “I believe there is a direct relationship between the quality of a school and the involvement of its alumni – and our Law Alumni Association gives our graduates a great way to get involved.”
In May 2011, Harris handed over the reins to Bill Jackson, the new Law Alumni Association President. “The group is in great hands with Bill at the helm,” he said. “I urge him to continue to work on alumni involvement. He will be working with a great group of alumni. I had so much fun serving the Law Center.”
Harris was drawn to the law early on. “There were no lawyers or judges in my family,” he said. “I just decided during a middle school career day that I wanted to be a lawyer. Starting that day, I did everything I could do to realize my dream.”
The youngest of five children, Harris’ goal of practicing law was not easily realized. “Given my families’ financial situation, I had to figure out how to pay for college myself,” he said. “I came to the University of Houston as an undergraduate on a Jones scholarship. The school was in the perfect proximity and price range for me.”
From then on, Harris worked full-time at a local grocery store as a clerk and then an assistant manager to pay for his education. After enduring the rigors of being a full-time student and full-time employee, he graduated with his J.D. in 1988 and began climbing the professional ranks.
After a one-year clerkship with the Texas Supreme Court, Harris came back to Houston in 1989 and worked for Porter Hedges LLP until 1996 when he moved to Bracewell & Giuliani LLPAppellate. Now a partner, Harris heads the firm's appellate practice, handling hundreds of appeals and original proceedings in the Texas Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court, and state and federal courts of appeals.
In addition, Harris is currently president-elect of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of information, papers, photographs, and significant artifacts relating to the Supreme Court and the appellate courts of Texas.