Former Acting General Counsel of the U.S. Army Michele Pearce Speaks To Fordham Law Students


On April 28, Michele Pearce, Of Counsel at Covington & Burling in Washington D.C. and the first Latina to serve as acting general counsel of the U.S. Army, spoke to Fordham Law students about her career path as a woman of color in national security law. The event was co-sponsored by Fordham’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and Black Law Students Association, and was moderated by Leitner Family Professor of International Law Thomas Lee.

Pearce spoke about joining the U.S. Air Force as a staff judge advocate right after graduating from law school at the University of Connecticut. She then worked for the Air Force as an officer and lawyer for 13 years. 

Throughout her career, Pearce described how she was often the only woman and person of color in the room. As she advanced to leadership positions in her career, she tried her best to bring her perspectives to an institution led almost exclusively by men. It was important for her, she said, to speak out on issues—like physical fitness and grooming standards—where it was evident policies had been made from a strictly male perspective.

Pearce also spoke about her time as a legislative aide in the U.S. Congress for the House Armed Services Committee and U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine. “Working on Capitol Hill is something a lot of law students outside of D.C. don’t think about,” said Pearce, “But it’s a unique opportunity to see and help the process by which laws get made.”

That experience informed her service as Deputy General Counsel for Legislation at the U.S. Department of Defense, where she led the office’s efforts to draft legislation establishing the U.S. Space Force. “It was a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime effort,” said Pearce.  

During her time at the Department of Defense, she met and worked closely with Professor Lee, who was Special Counsel to the Department’s General Counsel while on public service leave from Fordham Law, and who also served for a time in the U.S. Navy as an active-duty cryptology officer, mostly deployed aboard submarines.

“One of the best parts of working in government, and particularly the military, is the people you meet, like Professor Lee,” said Pearce. “They’re not just great lawyers, they’re great people who believe in public service.”

The event also included conversations with the Fordham Law students in attendance, some of whom had also served in the military and were eager to hear Pearce’s perspectives.   

“We were thrilled that Ms. Pearce was able to share her story and insights with Fordham Law students,” Lee said. “She’s an inspiration for everyone but especially our law students who are women and persons of color.”


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