Throughout his growing up in Louisville, Mississippi, Austin Harrison knew little about the Clinton School of Public Service. The irony of that being, he was as close to a prototype Clinton School student as there is, from his formal education in public policy leadership from the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi to time spent studying abroad to his career goals of public service.
And it didn’t take long after learning about the Clinton School for Harrison to recognize what a good fit the school was for him as well.
“I studied abroad in undergrad, so I was aware of different cultures and different backgrounds, but I’d never been in a classroom with students from 12 different countries and all of these different life experiences,” he said. “Within the first couple of weeks I realized one, that I had made the right choice, but also, I realized how much I had to learn from the other folks in the classroom.”
Harrison’s immersion in the culture of the Clinton School experience was unique, having entered the concurrent law degree program conducted in partnership with UA Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law. His first year was focused on his legal studies, during which he targeted public service coursework in preparation for the demands of year two.
“That first year, I had some exposure to the Clinton School, but as a first-year law student, you also don’t have all that much time,” he said. “I also focused in on those areas where I really saw the synergies between public service, public policy and law. I spent a year in law school focused on reading every case and looking at every single detail and basically trying to analyze what’s on paper.”
Once into the Clinton School format, however, Harrison realized that the demands would be different than law school.
“I really had to shift my thinking to get in step with the approach of the Clinton School,” he said. “You’re put in a group and you basically have your group project for the entirety of your time during the first year. It’s completely different than law school where you’re completely reliant on yourself.
“That experience changes the way you think, it helps you think in more of a team mentality, under the slogan ‘Bringing others up with you.’ If I have notes from a class, I’m going to share them. If I have an expertise that I think is going to help somebody else, I’m going to share that. It wasn’t the dog-eat-dog world of law school.”
Harrison’s International Public Service Project was another very impactful element of his Clinton School education. For that, he worked as a Department of State intern in the political and economic office for the U.S. embassy in Zagreb, Croatia.
“I was meeting with local folks in government to share perspectives on U.S. policy,” he said. “That was also during the time of the migrant crisis from people fleeing from Turkey and Greece and they were coming in right through Croatia. I was drafting memos that were coming from the U.S. embassy in Zagreb and sent back to D.C.”
Upon receiving his law degree and Master of Public Service, Harrison landed with legal and policy firm Squire Patton Boggs as an associate in the public policy practice group. This position allowed Austin to draw directly from his international service at the Clinton School.
“One of the first assignments that I got was our firm’s representation of Croatia,” he said. “Being someone who had just spent three months in the U.S. Embassy in Croatia, I joined the team and ended up having the opportunity to join the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs as he presented to the U.N. Security Council in New York.”
Now with the firm’s Atlanta office, Harrison advises clients on matters involving administrative law, land use matters, and various other elements of state and federal public policy. He is quick to credit his Clinton School experience for his ability to attack complex problems and formulate effective and compelling arguments on a given issue.
“I grew up in small-town Mississippi surrounded by people who thought like I did, and who rarely challenged me on what I thought about a particular political issue,” he said. “At the Clinton School, I realized I had to know the details of why I believe something. The result of that in application to what I’m doing now is a recognition to not take on an issue with only a surface level understanding. Even eight years later, I’m much more about getting into the weeds and preparing for questions as a result of the Clinton School.
“Another part of it goes back to the team-building aspect. Squire Patton Boggs has a great bench of legal and public policy practitioners and there was never a time since I started here that I tried to tackle something on my own. Through the Clinton School experience, I realized there’s so much power in working with the team. This reality is something I’ve really leaned on.”
Austin Harrison is a 2016 graduate of the Clinton School of Public Service who earned his concurrent Juris Doctor from the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. Harrison is a senior associate in the Public Policy Practice at Squire Patton Boggs.
Story written by Dwain Hebda.