Founding Partner and Military Veteran
Michael B. Hanzel spent 12 years on active duty as a U.S. Navy JAG officer, serving in Charleston, SC, Bahrain, Washington DC, Bremerton, WA, and Norfolk, VA. He left active duty in 2017 as the Senior Defense Counsel of the Navy’s largest and busiest defense litigation office and founded The Hanzel Law Firm with his wife because they believed that they could accomplish more for military members, veterans, and their families by working from outside the system as civilian attorneys. They also wanted to serve the legal needs of the community of Charleston, SC, where they met when they were first-tour JAGs in 2008.
Living and Working Abroad
Mike’s experience in law is diverse. After graduation with distinction from the University of Virginia in 1999, he spent the next year living and working abroad, first in Galway, Ireland, and then in London, England, where he was a legislative assistant to Sir Paul Beresford, Member of Parliament for Mole Valley, Surrey. There, he wrote the first draft of several of the United Kingdom's current anti-child sex offender laws, as well as cabinet minister’s speeches advocating passage of those laws. Working with British legislators and staff and with Scotland Yard’s leading detectives, and utilizing experience he had developed during internships with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s office, he delved deeply into the legislative process to help modernize the UK’s child sex offender laws, many of which had been unchanged since the 1920s and 1930s.
Back in the United States, Mike worked as a journalist for The Associated Press and the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, VA, where he was the beat writer for small-college football and basketball and wrote and edited copy on the sports desk. He later wrote a college soccer column for ESPN's http://www.espn.com/soccer/ and contributed to The Boston Globe, Major League Baseball, and The Providence (RI) Journal, as well as other newspapers and websites. In addition to sports, he contributed to coverage of the 2000 election and the 9/11 attacks.
In 2002, he was admitted to the prestigious University of Virginia School of Law, ranked one of the top-10 law schools in the United States, and took classes in the law of armed conflict from both U.Va. and the Army JAG School in Charlottesville, VA. He graduated in 2005 with his Juris Doctorate degree. He also completed a summer internship with the U.S. Army JAG Corps at Ft. Lee, in Petersburg, VA, gaining experience in Military Tort Claims, Legal Assistance, Prosecution, and Defense. Like many of his generation, the events of 9/11 inspired him to serve his country, and Michael Hanzel commissioned in the Navy soon after graduating from law school, serving five tours, including one as the Navy’s sole prosecutor in the CENTCOM theater of operations, based out of Bahrain, from which he made multiple trips into war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Kuwait, Dubai, UAE, Jordan, and ships at sea in the Arabian Gulf in support of commands requiring investigations and prosecutions. During his time in the Middle East, he also volunteered as a trial advocacy coach at the Department of Defense School, helped plan the return of dependents to Bahrain, and handled foreign tort claims for the Navy.
From 2006 to 2008, he served in Charleston, SC, where he headed the legal assistance office, drafting hundreds of wills and trusts for Sailors, veterans, and their dependents, helping protect consumers from predatory businesses, conducting weekly South Carolina divorce seminars for military spouses and servicemembers, and running a Charleston tax center. While stationed in Charleston, he also served as a volunteer soccer coach with the Mount Pleasant Soccer Club in Mt. Pleasant, SC.
After being selected for a highly-competitive clerkship with the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA), he served as an appellate defense attorney in Washington DC. While there, he won a high-profile case for a U.S. Marine at the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) about the military’s criminalization of bona fide suicide attempts, drawing attention to the military’s policy on criminalizing suicide attempts at a time when veteran and active duty suicides were at an all-time high and causing the Department of Defense to order a review of its policies regarding suicide. He also served as an adjunct professor of military law at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, during this tour.
Following his appellate defense tour, Mike was tasked with taking over the Navy’s Northwest defense litigation department as Senior Defense Counsel. Based in Bremerton, WA, and often traveling to his offices in Whidbey Island, Everett, and Seattle, he headed a staff of junior defense counsel and legalmen handling all Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard cases from Alameda, CA, to Alaska. During his period in charge, he led the Northwest Defense Department to repeated successes, including multiple full acquittals and admin board wins, despite the busiest per capita docket in the Navy.
The Navy then sent him to Norfolk, VA, its largest and busiest defense litigation office, which during his tenure there handled approximately 30-40 percent of the Navy’s cases worldwide, most of them sexual assault or other sexual misconduct cases. Mike Hanzel helped lead the Norfolk Defense Department at U.S. Navy Defense Service Office Southeast to unparalleled success, including an impressive array of full acquittals while defending some of the most high-profile cases in the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps.
Attorney Michael Hanzel is a veteran of 100’s of military justice cases and in 2012 was designated a Military Justice Litigation Specialist by the Navy. He has been invited to speak on military justice topics by the Virginia State Bar, Naval Justice School, and at various Navy Defense trainings and conferences. He is a member of the Virginia and South Carolina Bars, is Article 27(b) certified for military courts and is admitted to practice in front of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.