“I was always told by my parents and teachers that I was a good public speaker,” says Janet (Rubinstein) Keller ’91, “and I usually liked getting up in front of people and giving my point of view.” This knack for public speaking has formed the basis for Keller’s career as senior counsel in the Office of the Corporation Counsel at the New York City Law Department, where she was recently recognized—for the second time—with a Division Chief Award for superior legal accomplishments.
Although public speaking has always come naturally to Keller, understanding legal proceedings and processes required on-the-job training. “I will never forget that it took me about a month to do my first legal document called a ‘Complaint,’” she says. “A Complaint should normally take about an hour! That was a huge learning experience.” At another job, she remembers being told to do a deposition before she even knew what a deposition was. “I also appeared in court one day for what I thought would be a routine conference and ended up being a trial!” Although many would find these experiences stressful, Keller is quite appreciative of them: “I treasure these moments because they taught me how to make good decisions quickly and how to remain calm under pressure.”
Keller—who currently spends much of her time in a courtroom working to defend New York City—attributes her success to a combination of hard work, memorable learning experiences, and key individuals who believed in her ability to succeed as a lawyer: “At each place that I worked, I have always been able to find supportive people who remembered what it was like to be new in the field.” In law school, for instance, Keller remembers a solo practitioner who took her under his wing. “He allowed me see what it was like to practice law by going to court with him and allowing me to draft pleadings,” she says.
These hands-on legal experiences are critical for students interested in becoming a lawyer: “The greatest advice I can give is to gain legal experience, even if you have to do an unpaid internship.” Once you get a foot-in-the-door, she says, work hard. “Remember, a law firm is hiring because they have work that needs to get done. The sooner you are able to get the work done the sooner you will be an asset to the firm.”
She also recommends pursuing professional relationships and opportunities while still at UMass: “You can always approach your instructor after class, and you can seek personal guidance,” she says. “I found my instructors to be very approachable and willing to help.”
Thanks in part to her own positive mentoring experiences over the years, Keller is quick to give back to her profession: “I make time to be on a Women's Committee at work, head a Family Connections Committee at my Temple, and [serve as] Corresponding Secretary of The Brandeis Association, a Jewish Legal Professionals Group.” When possible, she also mentors other lawyers. “While these activities are overwhelming at times, I find that the benefits to myself, my children, and to others are worth the struggle,” she says.
- Alumni News