Tara Norgard sat down with Brandie Burris, 2L and newly elected editor-in-chief of the University of Minnesota Law Review, to talk about Burris’ leadership in the next generation of the legal profession.
TN: You had a career before law school. How has that shaped your law school experience?
BB: After college I taught in a school in Louisiana where 90% of students were of color and poor. I saw first-hand that when you don’t get access to rigorous high-quality instruction and you don’t get pushed academically, it impacts the rest of your life. There is a direct connection between the education that I was afforded and where I am today versus others who did not have the same schools and opportunities. I went on to pursue education policy, trying to solve the problem from a more systemic level.
TN: How did your early education form your life path?
BB: In fourth grade I had a transformative teacher, Miss Nestor, who challenged my internalized self-doubt. She helped me recognize that I was capable of more than I thought. She insisted that I be put on a gifted track.
TN: Did you think you would grow up to be a lawyer?
BB: Since I was young, I have seen myself as a problem solver. If I knew what a community organizer was back then, I think I would have said I wanted to be one. I remember in fifth grade organizing my classmates to challenge a playground policy. We were unsuccessful, but I remember it as one of my first efforts to impact change.
TN: Did you see law school as a way that would help you impact change?
BB: I do see law school as serving me in in the work that I want to do. On a more personal level, law school also allows me to challenge my inner “academic nerd.”
TN: Has law school offered the challenges and opportunities you hoped to find?
BB: I came in knowing I want to serve my community, but didn’t know what that might look like in law school. So I’ve allowed myself to explore a lot of different areas of the law. For example, I didn’t know how labor law works and how worker protections can help create financial security for families. I’ll be taking tax next semester and I’m almost certain our tax code plays a role in creating the social injustices we see every day. I’m just trying to immerse myself in all of it.
TN: Where do you see yourself taking the skills you are honing?
BB: Until recently, I would have had a different answer.
But now I feel a pull to criminal and constitutional law. Coming into law school, I didn’t think I had the emotional resolve to be a criminal lawyer. I am starting to challenge myself about that. I want to be responsive to what I feel is an urgent need in society. I’m hoping to find the intersection between where I think I have value to add to this urgent moment.
TN: When attention is drawn to you being the first black person to hold the position of editor-in-chief of the Minnesota Law Review, I’ve wondered how you feel about this huge mantle that has been put on your shoulders.
BB: I do feel conflicted. It’s 2021. There were 105 volumes before now and none were led by a black person. And so part of it is a little uncomfortable to celebrate because I am certainly not the first black person to be qualified for this position. The moment to really celebrate will be when there are 100 black editors-in-chief. I think that, more than the first, will say more about progress.
At the same time, I’m proud to be chosen for this position. I also want to be recognized for the skills I bring to the role. I’m in this position because I’m qualified. And that’s worth celebrating.