Top Lawyer: Mika’il Ali ’11
Captain Mika’il Ali admits that he has at times suffered from “a bit of imposter syndrome,” dismissive of his successes and insecure about his abilities. If he had any lingering doubts about his skills as a lawyer, though, they were recently put to rest when the American Bar Association notified him that he was on their “On the Rise—Top 40 Young Lawyers” list for 2016.
Growing up not far from California’s Travis Air Force Base, where his father was stationed, Ali watched a lot of television shows about lawyers and the military, such as JAG and Law & Order. Although one of his dreams was to be a lawyer, Ali thought that law was a profession for rich people only. He and his identical twin, Salahudin, concentrated instead on football and went on to play for New Mexico State University, where they became involved in a religious discrimination lawsuit. The case was Ali’s first real exposure to law and an opportunity to see legal professionals perform in a courtroom. He found the experience inspiring.
The brothers eventually transferred to Portland State University. On his way to football practice one day, Ali ran across a law school fair taking place on the campus. He stopped at every table to talk to the law school representatives and get admissions materials.
“Then, I went to practice and informed the coach that I was quitting the football team so I could concentrate on academics and go to law school,” said Ali. “It was the beginning of my journey. I was so ignorant of the process. I didn’t know this was something I could actually do until that day.”
Ali talked Salahudin into joining the prelaw society with him. Motivated to get started, the brothers began working at the district attorney’s office, where they met attorneys and judges who became mentors. They chose to stay in Portland and attend Lewis & Clark Law School.
“Oregon was good for me academically,” Ali said. “I could focus on school and being a student, and not be distracted by things going on at home. Lewis & Clark was also a place that wanted everyone to succeed and that was really important to me.”
Eventually, the brothers decided to pursue a law contract with the Marines. They spent the summer between their second and third years of law school in officer candidate school. Following graduation, they participated in officer training at the Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. Then time came for the bar exam.
“Everyone asks us why we took the Wisconsin bar,” Ali laughs. “Orders are made on a first-come, first-served basis, so I wanted my bar results as quickly as I could get them. It doesn’t take long in Wisconsin to grade the exam. I got my results in three weeks and then I was ready to start practicing.”
Ali was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California, as a civil law officer. His next step was the Naval Justice School for another intense course, after which he was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. “I was essentially a legal aid attorney for the base,” said Ali. He was just hitting his stride when his boss left and Ali was made a captain. “I was basically running the clinic, in charge of the staff and cases. I had joined the military to become a leader, and I had been trained to be able to handle anything that came my way.” And handle it he did. That year, his section won the Distinguished Office Award for Military Legal Assistance, and Ali himself won the distinguished individual award.
Most recently, Ali served as a legal advisor for the Joint Task Force in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “It was like being a deputy in-house counsel for the Task Force. I worked on all kinds of international laws, habeas law, government regulations, detainments, etcetera.”
Now, Ali is planning to expand his knowledge through the Marine Corps special education program. He began an LLM program at George Mason University this fall, studying intellectual property and technology law. His ultimate goal is to go into international cyberspace security.
“Being a student again will be great,” said Ali. His advice to law students is not to worry too much about grades and ranking. “They’re only important for that first job. You need to work hard, but also keep things in perspective.”
Ali has obviously proven himself and looks forward to his future. He adds proudly that his twin, too, has done some impressive things. Salahudin currently works as a Marine Corps expert in ethics and government regulation and on the Wounded Warrior Project. “You’ll be hearing about him soon!”