Meet Our Favorite Lawyer, Ever

1_Heather-Warnken-181Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
Each day that Heather Warnken heads to her office at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Law, she may be exercising that fancy law degree of hers, but it doesn’t feel like paper-pushing or, worse, grunt work. That’s because her job as a legal policy associate at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law & Social Policy hits a sweet spot, combining on-the-ground research with her specialties: crime victims’ rights and services, violence-against-women response, and juvenile justice reform. Take note, starry-eyed future lawyers: This is the kind of nontraditional law job that lets you think outside the box.
“While in law school, I never thought about research as an advocacy tool,” Warnken says of her gig, where she identifies ways to transform our rather rigid criminal justice system into a more dignified, compassionate, and effective space by surveying and talking to victims and victims’ service programs about what justice means to them. What do victims and communities actually need after a crime’s been committed, and how can we do better? She found out by asking participants of every single program in California’s criminal justice system — the results were so compelling that even the U.S. Department of Justice cited her findings in a blueprint for improving response to those affected by crime.
Of course, it’s not all work and no play for the John Hopkins and U.C. Berkeley-educated lawyer; Warnken admits to loving car-singing and karaoke to transport herself away from the heavy issues she wrestles with at work. Plus, one perk of working at such a renowned, multidisciplinary institution is an all-star network of colleagues and friends who show her new ways to leave the world better than when she found it. “My projects surround me with visionaries,” she says — and we can hardly think of a more fulfilling gig. Cue up Law & Order’s “chung chung” and take a peek at her hard-charging, policy-shaking ways.
2_Heather-Warnken-114Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
Big Picture
“We are working to confront criminal and juvenile justice challenges threaded with profound racial disparities, gender discrimination, and intergenerational trauma. These complex problems require complex solutions well beyond that which the law alone can provide. An aspect of my job that I find so invigorating and freeing is that I have the opportunity to integrate the many perspectives necessary for pathways forward. Most importantly, that of the people impacted and marginalized by broken systems every day.”
No Rules
“Far too many lawyers I know and love feel trapped in jobs that do not make them happy. I can understand because I have the suffocating debt, the pressures and fear, too, and traveled the same rigged path. But the brick walls are surmountable. There is always a way to be an innovator in your own life. I hope one day legal education and the profession as a whole is a more conducive environment to fostering the ability of individuals to think outside the box about how to make a living wage doing something that they love. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually no rules, only possibilities of ways to contribute in this world.”
3_Heather-Warnken-194Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux
It’s (HBO) Go Time
“I could watch, contemplate, and discuss The Wire, a brilliant work of art and social commentary, endlessly. David Simon’s self-described love letter to my hometown has, in my humble opinion, done more to accurately depict and elicit discussion around issues of urban poverty and the War on Drugs than any academic work (or politician) ever could. I watched every season (twice) in weekend-long benders.”
The Road Less Traveled
“I'm so grateful to have unbelievable mentors that have opened doors for me I didn’t know existed, examples set by a wonderful family of nontraditional lawyers, and a whole lot of luck. But I also found this path by showing up. Over and over again. Events, talks, coffee — I was hungry for opportunities at my own intersection of learning and caring. Seeking out the people who were making careers of the things I cared most about in the world. Starting conversations and following up on them. Picking the brains of people I respect. And probably the hardest part: putting myself and my ideas out there.”
For more in-depth interviews with inspiring visionaries, click here.

More from News

Viola Davis wants people to rethink what it means to be a survivor of sexual assault. In a speech benefitting the Rape Foundation, the How to Get Away ...
We've been waiting for this news ever since President Obama announced that the White House would host South by South Lawn. The official lineup is here, ...
Dusty Rose Levine 9/21/16 A photo posted by Adam Levine (@adamlevine) on Sep 23, 2016 at 9:40pm PDT Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo Levine have ...
You could spend all day critiquing the media for the lack of compelling content created by and starring women. But why not put the kind of female-centric...
Update: Marion Cotillard's longtime partner, Guillaume Canet, has also weighed in on the Pitt-Jolie divorce rumors. In a post on Instagram, he wrote a long...
Fact: When a woman turns 30, she can do whatever the fuck she wants. To be sure, a woman can do just about anything just about anytime she wants. The ...
Last month, Star Wars star Daisy Ridley abruptly quit Instagram. The internet assumed that online bullying spurred her departure, because, well, the ...
Kylie Jenner has been summoned for questioning in a lawsuit against Tyga, TMZ reports. Before October 6, Jenner will appear for examination in a case ...
Pharrell Williams, the man responsible for "Happy," the song that would not go away, is expecting another child with his wife, Helen Lasichanh, E! Online...
Think about your nineteenth birthday. Perhaps it was not as special as your eighteenth birthday, but still a good birthday. You're an adult. Maybe you're...
Brad Pitt has added a well-known Beverly Hills attorney to take his side in one of the biggest Hollywood splits of our time. Pitt will be represented ...
Birth of a Nation star Gabrielle Union defended her director, Nate Parker, at the movie's premiere. To say that controversy has dogged the director and...
Last we saw Daniel Radcliffe, he was riding a farting corpse across the ocean. That's totally okay! Radcliffe's post-Potter career choices have veered ...
Katie Prager, whose relationship with fellow cystic fibrosis sufferer Dalton Prager was seen as similar to the love story in The Fault in Our Stars, has ...