Aris Pastor is a senior at NASH. They are the event leader of interpretation for the North Allegheny Speech and Debate Team, and they have hopes for a future in both psychiatric research and law. They love reading, listening to Supreme Court podcasts, and thinking too hard about fictional characters. They will be going to Bowdoin College, majoring in government and legal studies, as well as psychology,...
21 Questions with Ms. Keats
Here’s what one AP Economics teacher has to say about being a lawyer, SCOTUS, and her path to NASH.
May 17, 2023
Being a Lawyer
What was your career path from undergrad to being a lawyer?
I went to the University of Rochester undergraduate, and I majored in economics and political science. And I went to Duke Law School after that–not necessarily because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. In my senior year of college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I was thinking about pursuing a PhD in political science, but I had borrowed money already to go to school, and the prospects for jobs in academia are kind of unknown. So I took the LSAT, which is the entrance exam for law school, and I did well. So I was accepted at Duke, and I got a scholarship to go. I spent three years at Duke University Law School, [and I] really enjoyed law school–loved law school. It was very intellectually challenging, [and] I really liked the content. And so my third year, I had a decent amount of student debt accumulated by that time, so I interviewed exclusively with big law firms.
There’s a lot of different paths you can go after law school. You can go into public interest, you can go into criminal law, you can go into family law, smaller firms, you can work for nonprofits. But because of my student debt, I really felt like I had to make the most money that I could coming out of school, so that’s how I ended up in a big firm. I interviewed with firms in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, a couple other cities. I was offered a few different jobs, but I ultimately took the one in Pittsburgh. I worked for a law firm that is now called K&L Gates. It was Kirkpatrick & Lockhart at the time. It’s one of the oldest–it might even be the oldest–big law firm in the city. I am not from Pittsburgh originally, but I had been here a few times for different things, and I liked the city. So I started practicing there right after law school. I had taken the Bar [Exam] in the summer right after I had graduated, and I passed the Pennsylvania Bar, and so I started working there.
What type of law did you specialize in, and what drew you towards it?
I worked about four years there [at K&L Gates] as a complex commercial litigation associate. There are two sorts of branches of law, if you’re in the corporate world. There’s transactional law and there’s litigation. So transactional would be doing deals like buying and selling companies or stock deals or agreements [and] drafting contracts. I was on the litigation side, which is where you basically argue about the contracts and things that happened. So if you hear about people suing each other, that’s litigation. I was primarily on the defense side, so I represented large companies. I was an associate, so most of the cases that I worked on had a partner who was managing the case and one or two associates who would work the case. These are cases that dragged on for a really long time. There were cases that were still going on when I left that I had been working on the entire time.
I did some environmental litigation, some antitrust litigation, some general breach of contract and broad stuff, so it was a variety of things.
I actually left that firm and went to a different firm for a year and a half. [It was] similar, but I did more appellate work there, so it was more research and writing. When you appeal a case, then you’re doing a lot more arguing based just on the law and precedent and so forth, and not so much the facts of the case. It’s more drafting legal pleadings and things like that.
What made you decide to move to teaching?
I left practicing law for a couple reasons. I had one child, and I wanted to have more children. My husband was an attorney, and it was just really difficult to try to manage family and home and everything else and also work. I was probably working 60+ hours a week at the firm, so, you know, it was high pressure. At the time, it was the 90’s, so there weren’t a lot of women. There were some, but it was still a majority of men I would say. I think things have changed somewhat since then, but it was pretty tough as a woman to try to balance all of that. And so I went to Pitt and got a Masters of Arts and Teaching. After that, I got hired [at NASH], and I’ve been here ever since.
Were you ever interested in clerking?
Actually, it’s interesting! When I was trying to think about a career switch, I interviewed and was actually offered a clerkship for a district court judge in Pittsburgh. That was a big choice for me. I could see myself clerking because I did like the research and writing piece, but when you clerk, that’s basically all you do. There’s not a lot of human interaction. You work with other clerks, you work with your judge, obviously, and you watch arguments and cases, but it really isn’t interpersonally very interactive. It’s just a lot of solitary research and drafting and meeting with your judge. And I liked this gentleman a lot–his name was Brooks–but I just thought I would like to do something where I worked with people more. So now I have a lot of people that I work with!
What advice would you give future law students on how to balance school, work, and life?
I think for me, it was not as hard as for some people because I had always worked and gone to school. I was on work study during undergrad. I probably worked like 25-30 hours a week when I was in undergrad. In law school, I worked for a professor doing research, I waitressed at the faculty restaurant, so for me, I’ve always done better when I was incredibly busy and engaged. This was a time before cell phones and TikTok and lots of things that could distract you, so I would get up and go to class and then I would study, usually right after class, and then I would go to work and kind of rinse and repeat. And then I would go out on weekends, and yeah! Not a lot of sleep, and not a lot of down time, but I thrived on that kind of schedule.
It’s important to know yourself, I think. Be prepared for that kind of pace. I don’t know if it would be like that at every law school, and also, I really needed to work to make money, and not everyone does. I would say that if you have money and you don’t need to work, it’s clearly easier, but also, the more time you have, the more time you have to waste. To me, there was never any time to waste, so I was always doing something I either wanted to do for fun or something for school or something to make money. There was no time that I wasn’t doing one of those things.
How do you recommend networking?
This is just my experience, which is kind of gated. I did not do a lot of networking, per se. The way it works in law school in terms of jobs is that they would come to your campus and conduct interviews on campus, and you would sign up for the ones you wanted. And if they liked you, then you would do a fly back. They would fly you to the city wherever the firm was. I think it’s more important–[rather] than try to make connections with a lot of people–is to work and be better at connecting with people one-on-one. Honestly, the job offers I got were not because of my GPA. I think it was because I was a woman that could talk about a lot of different things. The firm that I ended up working for, the interview we did, we ended up going to the pool hall and shooting pool and talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates. I literally think that’s how I got the job. I think that being able to speak to other people, being able to be a good listener and communicate, and having a wider range of interests and topics that you talk about is going to help you in interviews. They can get the top person from every law school and say, “We’ll pay you this much money,” but I do think your personality and your social skills are really important in law to get that opportunity.
How did you prepare for the LSAT?
Interestingly, I didn’t do a lot of prep. It happened, I think, that that test was just pretty well-suited to my natural strengths. So, at the time, there were three or four sections. I think it’s changed since then, but a lot of it was reading and vocabulary and writing, which I was strong in. And then there was a section called “logic games,” which is not math. It’s more of… some probability, more critical thinking and logic, which I was pretty good at. So I did not prepare as much as I probably should have, and maybe I just had a good test-taking day. But the test itself was just really well-suited to my strengths.
What advice would you give NASH students about how they can prepare, both in high school and undergrad years, for both the LSAT and law school?
I would probably take one of the [LSAT] courses. I did not take a course, but there are companies that specialize in that test prep. Given that the stakes are really high in terms of where you end up in your career, where you practice, [and] the choices that you have, the caliber of law school that you attend is really a driving factor. I do tell students that ask me about it to think about your undergraduate institution. What is important is not what you major in, but that you do really well. And you don’t have to come from a top ten undergrad to get into a top ten law school. If you do really well at a good university and do well on the test, you can get in. But I would say, it’s important to kind of go to the best law school you can, because I know that if you want to work–particularly in a firm or in a big city–they look first at candidates from top tier law schools.
I also think that unlike other disciplines, you can major in a lot of different things and end up in law school. The important part is that you build skills. It’s not content knowledge; it’s really skills. One thing I see from students that causes me to worry here is that you need to read a lot. A lot. And carefully! And a skill that you’ll need is drawing out even small distinctions or minor points. I think for students here, forcing themselves to read content thoroughly and a lot of it… While fiction is nice, I think it really is informational text and argumentative text and practice writing more than a sentence or two that builds these skills. You still have to write briefs that could be ten or twenty or thirty pages long. You have to build an argument, and it takes a lot of patience to do that. I see that students, for a lot of different reasons, don’t necessarily have those skills or work on those skills.
I think that you should take classes that interest you, the ones that are going to stimulate your thinking. The term “critical thinking” is used a lot, and it’s hard to define, but that is what a lot of what law school and practicing law is. It’s a lot of taking one fact and one piece of legal precedent and thinking about how they fit together and how you could make an argument, or what the law would say about a different situation. That does require you to be able to connect a lot of dots and not just memorize. Memorization will not take you very far in law school compared to some other disciplines.
How would you recommend building up these writing and critical thinking skills?
I think teachers don’t ask as much of [those skills] anymore. I think that paying attention to questions where you’re asked to compare one thing to another or argue one position over another–the more of that you can do, the better. So if you ever have a choice in a social studies class or an English class between an informative essay and an argumentative [essay], choose the argumentative one. And if you ever are given options about things to read for a class, I would suggest picking the ones that are geared more towards “mystery solving.” [It’s] the intuitive “what do you think’s gonna happen next?” or “where do you think this is going?” or “what is the answer to this puzzle?” Because I think that is a lot of what practicing law is about. It’s getting pieces to fit together.
How would you describe the law school experience?
It’s very competitive. Duke was kind of known to be less competitive than some of the other ones, but it was still hypercompetitive. I assume that it’s similar now, but it was still very much done on a bell curve grading scale, so 30% of the class was going to get a 2.0, and then 3.0, and so on. You really felt almost all the time that you were in competition with each other, so you have to be ready for that for sure. There were some pretty cutthroat people. Back in the day, you actually had to use books for your research, and people would literally take the books that everyone needed out of the library and hide them so other people couldn’t get them. But, again, picking the right school for you is important. I was really into sports, so when I was at Duke, I would go to like every Duke basketball game. I did a lot–it was a big outside university, you know. I really enjoyed it, to be honest. To me, it was a good atmosphere. I think for some people, they would find it too competitive, so you should be prepared for that, for sure.
You mentioned not getting a lot of sleep. How did you stay up during law school?
Probably just good old fashioned adrenaline and fear. One of the things about law school is that if you aren’t prepared when you walk in, it could get pretty ugly. I remember I got called on on the first day in one of my classes. It was literally the first day, and of course I sat in the back thinking that I was going to hide, and the guy had his rule on his chart up there and he just called on me about a case. That was a big difference, too. It was very Socratic. They would just call on you, and you couldn’t just say “I don’t know.” The guy would just eviscerate you. You had to be prepared for that kind of fear. Fear is a pretty good stimulant, I guess.
Would you recommend doing mock trial and/or moot court?
Yeah, especially if you’re going to litigate, there’s only one way to do it, which is to do it. If that’s what you thought you wanted, then I would. And even if you were going into transactional work, it’s kind of a rite of passage to go through moot court. It’s just what you do.
And there’s a camaraderie there, too. Competitive and camaraderie, the same kind of thing. You would all commiserate together before and after, depending on how it went. I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I did it. It caused me a lot of anxiety, to be honest. I’m certainly comfortable arguing and speaking, it was just… as an analogy, I would never be on a speech and debate or forensics team. That was just not me. I like to argue, I like to discuss things, but not in that kind of super rapid-fire, super aggressive way. It’s not really me.
What classes in law school would you most recommend taking?
I still believe in the broadest experience possible, so I took the ones that interested me. I took a sports law class. I took a couple of labor law classes, just because I thought it was interesting. I would recommend, if you can, in your last year, you usually have one or two options to either take a graduate level class outside of the law school or even an undergrad class. Like I took a class in game theory as part of the political science department, and I really liked that. I think third year is your time to maybe enjoy yourself a little more and take some classes that you like. And then always do some kind of externship or internship if you can. Some schools require it. I did one in the district attorney’s office doing protection from abuse orders for women. Getting out and doing something, and actually being practical is also an important thing to do.
What classes would you recommend not taking?
Corporations. Well, you have to [take it]. It was my least favorite. I just did not enjoy corporate administrative law.
A lot of people recommend joining the Federalist Society, even if they don’t agree with their politics or ideology for networking purposes. What do you think is the right path of action there?
I didn’t. I didn’t feel like [not joining] would hurt me. I’m not sure that at the time if it had the same sort of reputation. There were definitely… less politics than one might imagine, at least where I was. I don’t know if that’s typical or not of other places. I can only speak to where I was, but yeah. I didn’t really feel like it was an overly political atmosphere. To me, [Duke] was just so academic. Everything was so academic, and you could have, certainly, lots of spirited debates about things, but it never felt political to me. Maybe ideological, but not political, if that makes sense. I think now, the two have bled together so much that it’s a little bit hard to tell them apart.
Describe one of your best and worst experiences working in law.
One of the best experiences I’ve has is that I really made a connection with one of my professors. I babysat her kids. She was a criminal law professor, just a very smart, capable woman who I really looked up to, and she really helped me. We talked about networking, [and] I didn’t network with her, but she asked me to help her write a book one summer. Like having that connection with someone who you relate to as a woman, having a female role model, was great. So that was probably one of the best things, I think, is just feeling like you had someone who you aspired to be, which hadn’t really happened to me before.
The worst thing was probably the stress, especially two times. The first year, when I was like, “I’m drowning here.” It was just so different than what I was used to. You sort of think about being used to being one of the smartest people in your class to looking around and being like, “Okay. This person went to Penn and this person went to Yale.” You know? You’re like, “Do I even belong here?” And secondly, I think that when I had realized third year that I had a decent amount of debt racked up, I had to get a job and make money. It took some of the fun out of the end of school. So I think that the beginning and the end were very stressful for two different reasons.
Favorite SCOTUS case?
I would probably have to point to one of the criminal procedure cases. It’’s probably Miranda, to be honest, or one of those where they first recognized that everyone has a right to council, and everyone has right to procedure. And I think it has gotten a lot of bad press, those those sort of Warren Court cases because [they say], “Well, you’re letting off criminals, and you know, there’s technicalities.” I really believe in the system and in the system of everyone deserving a robust–if not that, at least adequate–defense. I think cases like Miranda, the ones that were in that time frame, are really defending the system. Like this is the way that a just society works, and it will only work if we provide the same protections and rights to everyone regardless of who they are.
Probably Bush v. Gore, if I had to say. I just don’t think that was appropriate from the jump for them to intervene in that way, and I just don’t think it supports the fundamental beliefs that I have about our system and our system of elections.
Favorite SCOTUS justice?
I have to say Sandra Day O’Connor. I would love to say Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so I could both put them in there as women Justices. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is kind of a hero of mine. Her whole life, to me, is kind of something I have so much admiration for and wonder at. I think Sandra Day O’Connor, just because for her time, and being the first Supreme Court Justice to be a female is… I remember what it was like, and it was the 90’s, and I can’t imagine for her, what it was like making her way to that position a generation, two generations, before I did it. I have so much respect for that.
It is not political. I mean, you know, Scalia causes me lots of sleepless nights, but I respect him. The thing about Scalia that gets me is that intellectually, I have so much respect for him, but this idea of this strict construction of the Constitution and plain reading… I don’t think it’s really defensible. And so for such a talented and gifted jurist, it’s hard for me to sometimes to square that with this idea that the Constitution and the plain reading are going to give you the answers to complicated modern questions. I just feel like that’s kind of sell out politically. I don’t think he was being disingenuous; I just have a hard time figuring out how he justified some of that. But again, he and Ginsburg were good buddies so that should tell me that she saw something there.
What is your favorite thing about working at NASH?
Oddly enough, there’s two things. One, I think I learn something every day. To be a good teacher, I think that you need to keep learning and researching and reading. This forces me to do it. I feel really blessed that I can researching and looking up and wondering something. It is one job that really allows you to always be a student, which is what I always loved. I think the answer to how I got to law school was that I was really good at school. I would have stayed in school my whole life probably if someone had let me.
And you have a lot of autonomy here. Oddly enough, when I was practicing law, I worked for a client and if the client wanted something, you did it. If they wanted to argue something, you did it. So you are really prescribed in what you could do and how you could approach things. When I shut my door, I teach how I want to teach. I teach what I think is the most effective, and nobody tells me, “Well, you have to do that,” or, “You shouldn’t do it that way.” So you have a lot more freedom and autonomy here that I did practicing law.