By the time Christa Hall enrolled in law school, she was well-prepared for high-pressure environments.
She’d spent six years in the Air Force, including three with the Phoenix Raven program, a specialized security forces program that protects teams and aircraft on high-risk missions around the world. For more than two years, she’d been associate director and trip manager for President Barack Obama, coordinating personnel and scheduling while traveling on more than 100 Air Force One trips. And she’d served as advisor to the National Security Council’s deputy homeland security advisor, dealing with crises like cyber-hacks and the Ebola epidemic.
Law school must be a cakewalk, right? Not for someone as driven as Hall. “Of course, there’s a difference between messing up on the president’s schedule and not doing reading for a class, but being in the military taught me to give 100 percent to everything I do,” she says.
Hall grew up outside of Sacramento, Calif., the oldest of four children of a single mother. She signed up for the military when she was 17, and began basic training two weeks before the 9/11 attacks. She was deployed to Afghanistan and Djibouti, and twice to Iraq. “I learned that even when challenges might seem insurmountable at the beginning, you’re going to get through it,” she says.
In 2009, Hall became the first person in her family to go to college when she enrolled at Sierra College, later transferring to UC Berkeley, where she majored in political science. She spent her last semester in Washington, D.C., interning in the White House’s scheduling and advance department, which coordinates the president’s travel schedule and events around the world. When she graduated, that led to a full-time job as trip manager, which placed her in the immediate travel bubble around President Obama.
“He’s humorous, relaxed and wise,” she recalls. “He has a memory unlike any human I’ve ever met: This man sometimes meets hundreds of people a day, and he’ll remember them months and sometimes years down the road.”
Hall’s most stressful moment on the job was the day President Obama and his entourage arrived at the Republic of Korea’s executive residence, known as the Blue House. Thanks to a mix-up, Hall didn’t have enough credentials for the president’s staff to get inside. Luckily, the State Department’s diplomatic skills saved the day. Highlights of traveling with the president included standing in the living room of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Myanmar and the time he sang “Happy Birthday” to her on Air Force One on a flight back from Costa Rica.
In 2013, Hall moved to the National Security Council, helping to coordinate policy on cyber, transborder and resilience issues as the advisor to Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Rand Beers. Spending a lot of time working with lawyers made her realize she wanted to pursue that path herself. “It was clear to me I was going to need another set of skills to be able to participate more substantively in policymaking. The people I was most impressed with were lawyers; they are able to think critically, and their writing skills along with oral advocacy were unparalleled.”
Hall began her legal education at a law school in the Sacramento area, then transferred to UC Hastings in 2016. She has spent summers clerking at a law firm and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, and is currently editor in chief of the Hastings Law Journal. After graduation, she’ll clerk with a federal district court judge for the Northern District. Eventually, she’d like to return to working on national security issues, and she says UC Hastings has prepared her to make an impact in that field.
“I’ve been in government my entire adult life, and this crazy historical election has challenged my values and my identity,” she says. “The energy and support this school provides has been empowering. The nation is looking to lawyers to decide whether what’s happening is constitutionally valid. I feel like I’m going to be able to go out into the world and have the skill set to make a difference.”