“I love California, from the Bay Area to LA, and I have lived all over this great Golden State,” says criminal defense attorney Michel Huff, founder of Huff Legal. But a special place in his heart is reserved for the Bay Area.
“The Bay Area community told me I belonged and that I am beautifully and wonderfully made,” Huff said. “Being an openly trans man of color, I cannot deny the sense of community I feel, as Oakland and San Francisco have always embraced me. I find it impossible to not feel at home in that type of loving acceptance.”
Given Huff’s long history of service to the community, it seems fair to say the Bay Area loves him back.
Driven to help others
Huff’s public service largely relies on his legal expertise. “Honestly, I am consumed (intentionally and gladly) by the practice of law,” he said. “I love it. That’s why most of my activities involve legal forums and functions. I’ve been in the law for 26 years now. During this time, I have participated in too many community activities in Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles to list!”
Despite the high level of difficulty and numerous hours involved in this public service, Huff feels like he’s the one who benefits most from it. “My goal is to help, so serving others may be one of the most selfish things I do,” he said. “Don’t misunderstand me; the reason I say that is because I receive a gratifying high every time someone sincerely thanks me for saving their child, their mother, their partner, or their home.”
Huff described this feeling as “incomparable.” “I do not know a better feeling, professionally speaking,” he said.
Huff’s community service in the Bay Area and beyond
Many nonprofit organizations have benefited from Huff’s superior knowledge, experience, and judgment. For instance, starting in 2010, he began serving as a Charter Member of Oakland Pride. He has also sat on Oakland Pride’s Executive Board for many years. For matters related to steering nonprofits, he often relies on Chisholm Law Firm, PLLC, which specializes in starting and developing 501(c)(3) organizations.
Ever since Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Board Governor and National Executive Committee Member Brian Martin invited Huff to join, Huff has also been involved with that organization’s groundbreaking efforts to promote LGBTQIA+ rights. He is even a member of HRC’s Federal Club Council, which is reserved for major donors.
If that wasn’t enough, he also participates in a number of local bar associations in the Bay Area and offers critical advice on legal matters to the LGBTQIA+ community. “My law firm provides legal support as counsel to assist” LGBTQIA+ people in need, he explained.
Real resources for those who lack them
Unlike other lawyers, Huff isn’t motivated by making a buck. When asked what he is most proud of, he brings up Huff Legal’s Modest Means Program.
“This program increases access to justice for our clients from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” he explained. “Based on their annual income, we use a sliding scale to adjust to their ability to pay.”
In case this sound too good to be true, Huff Legal’s Modest Means Program is already in operation and has proven its effectiveness.
“We began this program last year and have seen a significant uptick in clients taking advantage of the opportunity we provide,” Huff said. “For some, it’s the difference between going to prison or remaining free. No one should be refused access to justice in our country or anywhere.”
Huff Legal also offers free consultations for people who are interested in criminal defense.
Help from someone who truly understands
Why does Huff give up his time and energy so freely? While Huff’s preeminent standing in the community and impressive list of accomplishments might make it seem like he has led a charmed existence, the reverse is true.
“I’ve been there,” he said. “I’ve been on government assistance. I’ve survived without much during various times in my life. I can empathize, not just sympathize.”
Indeed, Huff often faced discrimination during his former career as a police officer. In an interview with New York Weekly, he described being underestimated and targeted with racial slurs, but his need to overcome adversity like this only makes his achievements all the more impressive.
With characteristic humility, Huff points to powerful role models who inspired him to walk this path. “Judge Vicki Kolakowski is an openly trans woman who sits on the Alameda County bench,” he explained. “I’ve watched her career for over a decade, and she has blazed a trail for trans lawyers like me.”
For both civil and criminal clients, Huff is motivated by the desire to make a difference in people’s lives. “When I can help someone access the constitutional rights and safeguards that they may otherwise go without, it is my deliberate intention to do so,” he said.
That’s why, for many in the Bay Area, Huff is their favorite criminal defense attorney.