by Alexandra Ewing and J.P. Whalen; edited by Amanda M. Pasquini and Katherine Piazza
Kelly D. Eckel is a commercial litigator and Hiring Partner at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia. Ms. Eckel graduated from Temple Law, where she was Managing Editor of the Temple Law Review and a member of the Moot Court Honor Society. She is also a graduate of Harvard College. Ms. Eckel recently spoke with Temple Law Review about her time at Temple Law, her legal career, and her family.
TLR: Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer or how did you come to the decision to go to law school?
KE: I did not always know that I wanted to be a lawyer. When I was in college, I was first a History major, and then became an English major. I graduated in 1991 from Harvard College. It wasn’t a good economic time and I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally. I loved being in Cambridge, so I stayed and worked for the University, doing fundraising. During my two years of working there, I tried to figure out whether I should go to graduate school for English—my parents were horrified. I actually took a legal writing class at the Harvard Extension School while working for the University, and I also took a class which was the equivalent to legal process, the first year law school class that I had with [Professor James] Shellenberger when I got to Temple. I liked these law-related classes, so I decided to apply to law school after I had taken some time off. I chose Temple because there were people like me, who had taken a couple years off and people who had even had an entirely different career before going to Temple. And then there were people who went directly from college to law school. So it was kind of a nice mix of students, and I thought that would be good. I ultimately “landed” in law school, but I had thought about it carefully after I enjoyed the taste of it that I got from the legal writing [class that I took at the Harvard Extension School]. That’s how I ended up in law and at Temple.
TLR: Speaking of Temple, other than legal writing, which everyone says is very helpful, what would you say has been the most useful course you took so far in your career?
KE: In terms of my career, my Federal Courts class and my Conflicts of Laws class, both with Laura Little, were the most helpful. I wish had taken Remedies, which she also taught when I was there. I tell everyone to take all the classes that Laura Little teaches. (Laughs.) Federal Courts was very important for me in terms of both my clerkship after law school and my career at Duane Morris. I clerked for a year after law school in federal district court for Judge Brotman in Camden. After that, my practice has been largely federal for the past fifteen to twenty years. I have had some cases in state court and I have also developed a significant practice in the arbitration context with the [American Arbitration Association]. But in terms of traditional court systems, my practice has been mostly federal, and having taken Federal Courts was very important. Another important class was Civil Procedure—both Civ. Pro. I and Civ. Pro. II, which I think I took with [Professor David] Sonenshein—those two were terrific. I also loved my criminal law classes, but somehow I never practiced criminal law—not because I didn’t love [Professor James] Strazzella (I did—he’s the best), but I just never had that opportunity in private practice or even while clerking. Ultimately, I think that because my career path took the civil route, and my cases were largely in federal court, the courses that really prepared me for that would have been Federal Courts and Civ. Pro. I & II.
TLR: Outside of classes, what would you say your most memorable moment at Temple was?
KE: Hmm . . . my most memorable moment? I don’t know if I have one . . . The professors and environment were great but it wasn’t anything memorable in the sense that when you think memorable you think “Oh my god, what a fun time!” It wasn’t a Disney cruise, you know?
TLR: We completely understand that.
KE: I mean, I loved law review. I really enjoyed it. I loved the writing process, I loved working with people, I loved teaching them how to improve their writing. I find these things helped me edit my own writing. So if that’s what you mean by memorable —I loved that.
TLR: You were a managing editor of Temple Law Review—are there any specific ways you feel that experience prepared you for practicing law after you graduated?
KE: Working with people on their writing pieces, helping them refine their argument, and [getting to read topics] that were all over the map. I just think that when you’re in practice, you’re going to confront all sorts of different types of issues over the course of your career, and that certainly holds true for me. I’ve handled so many different kinds of cases in so many kinds of areas in civil practice. I think having the opportunity to get your arms around all the different topics that students choose and submit for law review is helpful training for practice because you really have to get into each topic and understand it fully in order to help them improve their writing. That holds true in the practice of law as well. A client walks in and they have a problem and you have to learn and understand a completely new business or area of the law. You also have to be able to communicate—initially with your opponents (if you’re in litigation), and then communicate again by explaining to the court what the positions are. I think as [Managing Editor] you’re doing that! You are learning a topic that is chosen by somebody else and is brought to you at that level, and you are editing it and refining it to make it better and more meaningful and you are contributing to its having an impact on the readership and providing some guidance on that particular area of the law.
TLR: We also read that you were a member of the Moot Court Honor Society. How did you balance all of that while in law school?
KE: Like I said, it wasn’t a Disney cruise! I don’t know how I did it. I think that I did Moot Court because when I started law school, I was horrified about being called on in class. My voice would literally shake, and I felt that I needed to try to get over that, because the more you do something, the easier it is. I still have nerves when I stand up in front of someone but my voice—I hope!—doesn’t shake anymore. So I did Moot Court to practice speaking in front of people more comfortably. But that didn’t really answer your question of “How did I balance it?”, did it? I guess I just did it! I felt I needed to do it; I felt it would help. I did the competitions to get more experience. My second year I went to Georgetown, and the topic of the competition was space law and international law. Talk about getting your arms around a subject that is completely different! My third year I did a criminal procedure competition at Seton Hall. It was great to be forced to prepare oral arguments; to get up on your feet and respond to judges.
And so I sort of juggled moot court and law review because I told myself I had to. I really wanted to do law review and I enjoyed that; I probably enjoyed law review more than moot court, but I think I really gained a lot from both of the activities.
TLR: You mentioned doing a problem with international law and we read in your biography on the Duane Morris website that you are fluent in German and you work with international clients.
TLR: Why German specifically?
KE: Right. So a little fun fact, I guess. My parents are both originally from Germany and they immigrated [to the United States] when they were in their twenties and taught me to speak German as my first language. After immigrating, my father joined the U.S. Army, and in the course of living abroad [and moving around] a few times, we also lived in Germany. When I was in nursery school, we were stationed southwest of Frankfurt, Germany. My parents put me into an American nursery school and I didn’t speak a lick of English, but when you’re that age you can pick up a new language very quickly. Only I picked up speaking English with a German accent. Kids started teasing me, and so I stopped speaking German. I guess I figured out “well, they are making fun of me because I have a German accent so I’m not going to do that (speak German) anymore.” Which caused my parents to think, “Well gee, what a shame.” So they said to me, “You won’t be able to speak to your grandmother anymore.” Even at that time, at a young age, I was very close to my grandmother. So long story short, I continued to speak German and ultimately learned English, too—and I no longer speak with a German accent. I don’t even think I can do a German accent properly! (Laughs)
It’s funny, but I never in a million years thought about how speaking German might actually come in to play for me professionally. I just thought, “oh how nice, I speak German and I have German friends, I have lived in Germany, I have German relatives . . .” And now, it just has become part of my practice. I have helped my colleagues with German language issues, I have German clients, I am part of and participate in the German American Chamber of Commerce for business development purposes. It has become useful! Of course, I didn’t sit in nursery school and think “well, I’m going to really keep up speaking German because some day I’m going to be a lawyer and that’s going to help.” It’s just something that happened.
TLR: That was really interesting. That answers our question of “Why German?”
KE: Yeah, so because of my family, really. That’s why German. I’ve actually managed to figure out how to make it relevant today in a business sense.
TLR: You said you have family over in Germany and you lived there a few times. Do you do a lot of traveling back and forth to Europe for any cases that you’re working on?
KE: Sadly, no. Unfortunately the last time I went to Germany on business was many years ago. We had an interesting plaintiffs case on behalf of a bunch of former radar technicians who believed they had gotten ill from exposure, during their mandatory service in the German Army, to radiation using radar devices made by various different manufactures, some in the U.S. This was long, long time ago; I know I was not even a partner yet, and I’ve now been a partner for more than 10 years! We had a lot of fun, going to Berlin, interviewing these different guys and using my language skills; it was actually really cool. That was the last time I was there on business. The last time I was there for pleasure was seven years ago, when I took my then five-year-old daughter, who is now 12, to visit relatives in Duesseldorf.
TLR: You segued into talking about your daughter. A lot of people think that lawyers don’t really have outside lives; people think it’s all work no play. We know that obviously is not true. So how do you like to spend your time outside of work?
KE: I have two daughters who keep me very busy. They are twelve and nine. They are both on a competitive swim team. I swam in high school and I played water polo in college, so I’m fairly aquatic. My husband does triathlons, so we’re all fairly athletic. Because every day only has twenty four hours, though, it’s hard to do it too much. But you know, we try to use the sport as an outlet. We do spend a lot of time at swimming pools. . . And really, it’s hard to find time outside of the law—obviously it is important, but the law is very demanding. People always talk about the work-life balance; it’s a total myth. I think it’s better to say you’re managing the imbalance. You have to do your best and carve out time. You have to determine what will make you happy and in a sense sort of develop your own definition of success. Everyone has a definition of success that is different, depending on what their priorities are and how they choose to manage the imbalance.