Name: Charmaine K. Harris
Title: Attorney, Blackwell Burke
Education: B.S. biomedical engineering, Brown University; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law
Charmaine Harris, attorney at Blackwell Burke, brought her medical device expertise out of the lab and into her products liability defense practice in her second career.
The law interested Harris even as she earned a biomedical engineering degree and worked as a senior medical design engineer in Medtronic’s neuromodulation business, where she designed and tested spinal cord stimulation devices. She also is a named inventor on five patents for such devices.
“I was always encouraged to pursue a career in the sciences especially as African American woman,” said Harris, with biology teacher mother and father in business administration who was good at math. “At a certain point in time I realized I just didn’t want to be in the lab for the rest of my life. I thought, ‘Let’s do it now’ before I lose the courage.’”
Harris loves the technical and legal detail involved in her work on product liability cases involving medical devices.
“It makes it easier to talk to engineers or subject matter experts,” Harris said. “I can talk about it but still go back to working on the nuts and bolts of the legal side of it.”
Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?
A. Just say hello and introduce yourself. I do consider myself approachable. Even though I do have a science background it doesn’t mean I’m completely introverted.
Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?
A. I usually enjoy a good mystery so right now I’m on a Jo Nesbo novel.
Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?
A. I like to be on time for things. It annoys me when I’m running late and can’t notify someone.
Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?
A. I like that there’s a variety. Every day there can be something new that comes up.
Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?
A. I like going to the movies. I also like walking outdoors on trails.
Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?
A. I did move a lot when I was younger but for the most part consider Mahtomedi to be my hometown. There is this restaurant (Lakeside Club) that’s featured in the movie “Fargo.” People always get a kick when I tell them that that’s in my hometown. But it closed recently. That’s where I would have taken them. Mahtomedi’s really small.
Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?
A. People are surprised by how long cases can last. If it goes to trial — a lot of times cases don’t go to trial — but length of time from when a complaint is filed to actual tried, people are just surprised by how long it can be especially for bigger product liability cases. The recent Medtronic case where we won summary judgment — it wasn’t a trial but it was a dispositive motion — that was almost six years.
The good and the bad thing is the most time-consuming portion is the discovery portion. The challenge is just making sure that you create good memos or work product so that it’s easy to come back to. For me it’s been learning how to best stay updated internally and then making sure that you can update the client, that this is where we left off, this is what’s going on now. That’s the best way to stay engaged, making sure that you have accurate documentation, accurate and complete documentation, the best you can do at the time.
Q. What if any is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture (books, films, TV)?
A. Most recently it was “Suits.” It was good entertainment. I don’t know how true to life it was, especially the offices and the fashion. I’ve never seen that, I’ve never observed that in my practice. But it was very dramatic and it was very good. I just enjoyed it. It was good drama.