'On the record': Law student is lead guitarist, singer in femme punk band

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– Photo courtesy of Becca Zarras

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When law student Becca Zarras isn’t hitting the books or helping clients, she’s the lead guitarist and singer in First Responders, a femme-punk band from Kalamazoo, with a first digital album titled “You Rang?”

“Music is a great outlet,” Zarras says. “I have so much fun when I get together with my band mates, we can’t stop laughing and smiling. We encourage our audience to do the same.”

A 2L student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where she serves as vice president of the Women’s Law Caucus, Zarras appreciates the school’s community and service-oriented mission.

“The staff and students make me feel like I’m seen and I know they genuinely care about my well-being and success,” she says.

Throughout her 1L year, Zarras worked at the law school’s Experiential Clinic, assisting Greening of Detroit students with misdemeanor and felony issues related to obtaining their drivers’ license; and observing United Community Housing Coalition attorneys counseling Wayne County residents facing property tax foreclosure.

“The clinics I did my first year were a great example of what being a lawyer is actually like,” she says. “It can be confusing and difficult, but you’re helping someone so it’s worth it.” 

This past summer, she spent two months as a judicial intern for U.S. District Court Executive Magistrate Judge Steven Whalen, Eastern District of Michigan.

“Judge Whalen is a patient and helpful mentor and I’m lucky he took a chance on a first year law student who had a very limited understanding of the legal field,” she says. “I conducted research and wrote drafts for opinions he had to write. Interning at the U.S. District Court was a wonderful learning experience and I hope to return there one day.”

She also was a student attorney in the traveling expungement clinic that visited six counties in northern Michigan. The team screened people for expungement, assisted clients in filling out expungement
applications, explained how to file court documents, and prepped clients about their hearings in front of a judge.

“It was a pleasure to be a small step in helping people who are trying to better themselves,” she says. “I hope the data we collected will lead to change in the law so more people have access to expungements.”
Since January, she has been a student employee at the Detroit Mercy Law Clinic Center.

“I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes work of being a lawyer, such as auditing files and screening possible clients,” she says. “I get real world, practical experience that I will use in my career.”

Zarras has her eyes set on an eventual lofty horizon.

“I want to be a judge one day but I recognize I need to put some work in before that happens,” she says. “I want to be a litigator, leaning toward indigent defense but open to all opportunities.

“Both my parents are police officers and since I’m interested in public defense work, it can make for some interesting family dinner conversation,” she adds with a smile. “But both of them, along with my two sisters, have been very supportive while I’ve been in law school. I want them to know how much they have helped me get to where I am today.”

Zarras holds a summa cum laude undergrad degree in behavioral psychology from Western Michigan University along with a B.A. in Gender and Women’s Studies.

“I initially wanted to be a therapist because I wanted to help people,” she says. “Luckily, I’m still able to do that with my law degree—it’s helped me with my client interaction because I know to listen.”

After undergrad, she spent close to three years as a human trafficking case manager for the YWCA in Kalamazoo, providing case management, emergency response, counseling, and court accompaniment to survivors. She also created presentations to local agencies and community partners; assisted in opening up and operating the Koru House, the first shelter in Michigan for survivors of all genders of both labor
and sex trafficking; and worked on SAKI (Sexual Assault Kit Initiative) with the special prosecutor and detectives to notify victims that their kits have been tested.

“I loved my job,” she says. “It was sometimes an emotionally taxing job but it was the strength of the survivors that kept me coming back everyday.”

As a consequence, Zarras is particularly interested in working with survivors of domestic and sexual assault, and human trafficking.

“The legal system is frightening to most people and I want to help make it a safer space for all,” she says.

A Livonia native, Zarras currently makes her home in Northville, with her dog Tock and her cat named Chili, a feline street urchin that she rescued.

With an interest in getting involved in the Detroit music scene, Zarras volunteered with Girls Rock Detroit’s fundraiser Rock Roulette, where adults form a band with strangers, practice for two months, and then play a benefit show to raise money for the summer children’s camp.

“I helped collect donations for the silent auction—and the night of the event was a blast,” she says.

She is a Donation Day volunteer for the York Project, helping distribute food, clothing, and hygiene products in the Cass Corridor neighborhood; and for the past eight years, has served as chairperson for the Mid-American Global Education Council, helping run a conference of high school students who debate as United Nations officials.

As chairperson, she chairs a debate committee of 20 to 50 students using parliamentary procedure.

“I competed in Model UN in high school and have volunteered since I graduated high school,” she says. “It’s inspiring to hear young people’s solutions to real world issues that world leaders can’t even figure out.”

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