A Villanova Law student focuses his scholarly pursuits on making an impact in public service and equal justice

Michael Harding ’23 JD

Michael Harding ’23 JD had expected to spend 2020 in Santiago, Chile, as a Fulbright Scholar, but just a month after his arrival there, the US State Department recalled international scholars in response to COVID’s spread.

Michael had taken a year of leave from the Charles Widger School of Law to pursue this prestigious educational opportunity, and suddenly he found himself back home in Philadelphia a month into the academic year.

Undeterred, this Public Interest Scholar changed course and took on high-impact roles at three regional and national organizations, ending up with one transformative year:

Equal Justice Works

In spring 2020, Michael was selected to serve on the National Advisory Committee of Equal Justice Works, a national nonprofit that creates opportunities for law students to engage in public service in support of underserved communities. Not only was he asked to co-chair the committee, but within months he was also invited to serve on the organization’s board of directors.

“Serving on the board of Equal Justice Works has been both eye-opening and humbling,” Michael says. “I’ve been able to see the inner workings of a national nonprofit organization and interact with some of the nation’s most impressive lawyers and judges in public interest law.”

Justice at Work

At Justice at Work, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance for low-wage and immigrant workers in Pennsylvania, Michael helped draft pleadings and other legal materials, interviewed clients in Spanish, and helped clients apply for emergency housing assistance during the pandemic.

He says, “It was my first exposure to legal practice, and I was deeply impressed by the personal commitment and investment of the lawyers I worked with.”

Public Interest Law Center

Michael got to work directly with clients in the Public Interest Law Center’s Renter Rights Clinic, helping them to secure appropriate housing resources. He also completed legal research assignments to aid the center’s high-stakes lawsuits.

This position exposed him to impact litigation—the practice of selectively choosing cases that will have a high impact for large groups of people or particular causes. Michael reflects, “It confirmed for me that I want to use litigation to effect systemic change in that same way.”