Michael Habashy

Habashy in DCMichael Habashy didn't always think he'd be where he is today. The 35-year-old lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife and newborn daughter, Hannah Grace, and litigates in the nation's capital as a trial attorney for the Department of the Navy, Office of the General Counsel — one of the largest civilian law firms in the federal government.

"I really can attribute that to the education I had at UCI," he said. "UCI took me from an 18-year-old who really didn't know what he wanted to do, or what his potential was, to someone who had the confidence and the ability to do a high-level DC internship, and then to become a lawyer."

At 18, he thought he wanted to be a biologist. "My mom's actually a physician, and I had some interest in the healthcare field when I first started," he said. But a burgeoning curiosity in diplomacy soon took hold. A natural mediator among his own friends, Habashy gravitated toward conflict resolution. "There's so much conflict in this world, and I think we need more peace builders out there," he said. He demoted his biology studies to a minor, and added a conflict resolution minor, as well. For his major, he decided to focus on political science, which fed his fascination with international affairs.

In the School of Social Sciences, he met Jeanett Castellanos, associate dean of undergraduate studies. "She's tremendous," he said. Castellanos encouraged him to do research with Wayne Sandholz, then a political science professor at UCI.

"The research I was doing with him looked at courts and the globalization of law," said Habashy. "We were particularly looking at how national high courts around the world were drawing upon foreign and international legal materials to decide cases in their own national courts.”

Castellanos also laid out the importance of pursuing internships, and she urged Habashy to take part in the UCDC program, which he did in the last quarter of his senior year. It was a life-changing experience. "Opportunities that that program provided opened the door for me to move back out to DC and have the network and the connections to get to where I'm at now," he said.

Michael HabashyAfter graduation, he knew that he wanted to return to DC eventually. But first, he needed more education. He attended Pepperdine, in Malibu, for law school, and clerked for the Health Quality Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice. That bio minor came in handy.  "Having a little bit of the biological sciences background aided me in just having a framework, or a basis, to understand some pretty complex scientific and medical topics," he said.

In the fall of 2017, with both a J.D. and a bar membership finally under his belt, it was time to get some solid legal experience. He accepted a position as a staff attorney with Venable LLP, where he worked with product liability, commercial litigation, energy law, and government contracts.

However, Habashy's eyes were set on a position in public service. He jumped when he got the chance to clerk at the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC. "It was an easy decision for me to make," he said. He loved being able to serve the country, and he learned much from Loren A. Smith, the senior judge whom he assisted there.

Habashy's conflict resolution minor proved useful as he progressed through his career. "Now as an attorney, I'm finding that that tool in my toolbelt really comes in handy," he said. "Most cases actually end up settling, and so it's a really wonderful skill for an attorney because you are resolving conflicts outside of the courtroom often."

Earlier this year — just more than a decade after graduating from UCI — Habashy entered his current role. At the Department of the Navy, he litigates Contract Disputes Act cases before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals and serves as second chair to attorneys from the Department of Justice in claims brought before the United States Court of Federal Claims.

He also acts as president of the DC chapter of the UCI Alumni Association, which has thousands of members in the area, thanks to the UCDC program. Habashy was eager to get involved with it when he moved to DC in 2017, and he's been on the board for more than five years. "It's been just wonderful to volunteer my time in this way and give back to the university," he said.

He has fond memories of walking Ring Road and of all the professors who gave him the confidence to pursue an ambitious career doing something consequential. "UCI's a university that really looks at an individual's character and sees the potential, and then while you're there really leans into that character and helps to kind of mold and shape the individual to realize their potential."

He still keeps in touch with Castellanos, who connects him with local mentees. "It's such a joy and a privilege to be able to mentor the next generation," he said. He wants to do for others what Castellanos did for him.

"She really had a profound impact on my career," he said. "Dr. C. played a critically important role in my professional success, and I'll be forever grateful to her and her thoughtful mentoring. I want to help people in the same way that I was helped at the end of the day."

-Alison Van Houten for UCI Social Sciences
-pictured: Michael Habashy, ’11 political science. Habashy at an April 16 UCI alumni chapter event in DC. 

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