The life and career of General Counsel at NASA :

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<<Law Stars and astronauts have things in common. Most of all, both know that when it comes to aiming for stellar career heights, the sky is no limit. And no lawyer reaches for the stars like this week's Law Star, Paul G. Pastorek, General Counsel of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Washington, D.C. With NASA flying high as a cosmic kite as its Mars rovers and Hubble telescope deliver cosmic images to Earth that rival the scenery in any Hollywood sci-fi adventure, and as President Bush's new space policy sets lofty national goals for NASA and the nation's future space ventures, Mr. Pastorek skillfully guides the busy law department at the world's leading space agency.

Mr. Pastorek's role at NASA is his first position in the federal government. Appointed by President George W. Bush, he took command of the general counsel's office in February, 2002. And no, it did not hurt that Mr. Patorek was a close boyhood friend of his fellow Louisianan and the current chief of NASA, Administrator Sean O'Keefe.

Before going to Washington, Mr. Pastorek handled business law matters, commercial litigation and transactional work as a managing partner at Adams and Reese in New Orleans. While there, he managed the firm's groups that specialized in government relations, as well as intellectual property, labor and other hot areas.

Back home in Louisiana, NASA's head lawyer is active in community and state issues, particularly in the area of education. Since 2000, he has been President of Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and has lent his skill and attention as a member of various commissions on K-12 education, community colleges and higher education.

A married father of three, Mr. Pastorek earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Loyola University of New Orleans.

Put on your spacesuits and anti-gravity boots and keep your hands in the LawCrossing rover as we orbit over to the workspace of our space agency's top lawyer to talk about NASA, working in the government and being an American lawyer lucky enough to be alive in the space age.

Q: Mr. Pastorek, as the high-flying General Counsel of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in this time of great change and challenge, you've earned your Law Star in more ways than one. Working as top lawyer at NASA sounds like a dream job. Were you always a fan of space and the space program? Since taking office in February 2002, how have you found working at NASA differs from practicing law as a partner at Adams and Reese?

A: I have always been interested and intrigued by space. As many Americans, I marveled at the lunar landing and can remember precisely where I was when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. However, I am not a space junkie. Frankly, before coming to NASA, I had no professional involvement in the space industry or with NASA, so it was a new experience for me.

Working as a General Counsel is dramatically different than private practice. In private practice, I worked hard managing several pieces of litigation and counseled clients in various transactions. But the number of transactions and the variety of legal matters is much greater and the time to devote to the matter, even ones of great importance, is much less. I have really relied on the other talented lawyers much more than ever before. I have to be able to get to the heart of the matter quickly and to be able to peel back the layers of confounding matters and isolate the issues, make decisions, and move on. It is the hardest work I have ever done. But it is the most fun I have had practicing law.

I have also been given a special opportunity to participate in the management team. I serve on all of the senior leadership management and programmatic committees and councils. I have been allowed to offer the special insight of logical thinking that only a lawyer can offer. It's exciting to be participating in a management team to pursue the mission of NASA - to understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; and to inspire the next generation of explorers…as only NASA can.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the General Counsel's office at NASA — how many lawyers work for you, what types of matters do you generally handle, and, aside from breaks to attend the occasional space shuttle launch, what is involved in a typical day for the General Counsel?

A: There are 130 lawyers who work for NASA. About 40 work in NASA's headquarters in Washington D.C. The rest work in our Centers around the country supporting the many programs which NASA pursues including human space flight, robotic missions to the rest of our solar system, the great observatories in space, the satellites that observe the earth and the development of aeronautics and aerospace research. The predominant substantive law work we do is government contracting (procurement), which is about 30% of the legal work we do. About another 30% of the work we do is general law, which includes ethics, employment counseling and litigation, environmental, administrative law, appropriations law and real estate. Another 20% is dedicated to patent and intellectual property law associated with the many inventions created by our employees and contractors. Finally, we spend about 20% of our time on international law and commercial transactions.

A typical day is quite hectic and generally consists of many meetings stacked back to back. Some are management committee meetings to discuss the handling of the Columbia disaster. Some meetings deal with substantive law matters usually of great significance to the Agency, such as a protest by a losing contractor on a large contract. Some are to meet with investigating bodies, such as mishap or accident boards or Congressional committees.

I can count on getting a call from the Administrator or a senior official several times a day asking for quick advice or looking to handle an emergency. I can be summoned to an office to address the matter and my assistant then has to reschedule my meetings which end up bumping into each other.

In addition, there is a great deal of travel to meet with lawyers and clients around the country. We also travel to meetings with our international partners to negotiate agreements dealing with scores of countries' governments around the world.

Q: It's been a long hard year since the Columbia tragedy. While some critics focus on budget issues at NASA and question the U.S. and our partners on the wisdom of building an international space station, congratulations go to everyone at NASA on the spectacular success so far of the Mars rover missions, Spirit and Opportunity. And of course, Hubble has dazzled the world beyond all expectation. How have the latest achievements changed the outlook and culture at the space administration?

A: The Columbia tragedy was the most difficult event I have had to deal with in my professional life. I was with the Administrator of NASA on the skid strip waiting for the shuttle to land on a sunny mild winter morning at the Kennedy Space Center with the families, friends and co-workers of the seven heroic astronauts who flew a spectacular science mission. They included Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Kalpna Chawla, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, David Brown, and Israeli astronaut Elon Ramon.

While standing there, we learned of the breakup and I truly felt like I was in the middle of a horrific nightmare. We lost seven astronauts and we ran the risk that the human space flight program may come to a permanent halt. We had to handle the situation well. The guiding principal the Administrator used was to do the right thing. It may sound trite, but it guided us through very tough times. In the end, we have much work to do to recover, but we are recovering. The successful landing of the rovers on Mars was a great relief. We needed a win. Columbia's loss stimulated a rejuvenation of NASA's workforce and our people worked harder than ever to make sure we did it right. When Spirit and Opportunity began their work, the hard work and rocket science paid off.

Even more importantly, the loss of the Columbia and our astronauts created a renewed focus on the importance for exploration of the cosmos. Earlier this year in January, President Bush announced his vision for the future of space exploration, which sets a course for Mars, after learning necessary lessons on the moon. Frankly, I doubt that we would have had a new vision this quickly, but for the tragedy. Truly, the Phoenix has risen from the ashes.

Q: How close are you with the NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe, appointed by President Bush in December 2001, who is also a native Louisiana boy. What are the working advantages or disadvantages to knowing your boss personally? How closely does the General Counsel work with the Administrator on current issues at NASA?

A: Sean and I are friends since college, where we served in student government as President and Vice-President, respectively. He went into public service and teaching and I practice law. But, we have stayed good friends and kept up with each other throughout our respective careers.

There are many advantages to having a close relationship. Primarily, I can tell him things that others cannot. I have access to him when I need it, though I try to use it sparingly. I have the opportunity to weigh in on many more issues than the legal ones. But there are potential pitfalls in working for your good friend. The one I was most concerned with was whether we might lose our friendship in the process. Indeed, the opposite occurred. We have a very solid relationship. I also ran the risk that others will treat me according to my relationship to Sean and not in my own right. I have had to work hard to establish my own credibility and I think I have been successful.

Q: President Bush's new space policy, announced last month, has generated a lot of excitement about the prospects for America's future in space. Some think the new policy may rekindle the glory days of the Apollo program. Others fear manned missions to Mars may be too expensive and pie-in-the-sky. How has the new policy changed the focus at your office? Are you optimistic about the U.S. retaining its leadership in space exploration? And if NASA does send people to Mars, would you like to go?

A: The President's vision for America's space exploration program is very exciting, it's affordable and it's credible. It is the first new policy in this area in 30 years. We have previously focused our attention on low earth orbit, which is the limit of the space shuttle. Don't get me wrong, the shuttle does amazing work and has laid the foundation for the future. But it is time to get on with humans exploring our solar system. Seven astronauts died to pursue this dream and the best way to pay tribute to them is to redouble our efforts and expand our horizons.

The new policy will herald a greater involvement in the international community resulting in more international law work. It will result in a great deal of new technology. There will be no shortage of work for lawyers at NASA.

With the strong space programs in Russia and the developing ones in Europe and China, NASA must push the boundaries if we are to be the leader. Being the leader is not just an ego thing, but it is the reason why the United States is the technological leader in the world and a major contributor to the economic health of our country. The space program is truly important to our future. Indeed, it is our future.

Q: Aside from NASA's great work in exploration, of course, the U.S. civil space industry involves commercial ventures, mainly the manufacture, launching and operation of telecomm and other types of satellites. How does your work overlap with government agencies such as the FAA, DOC, DOD, FCC and other offices that are responsible for commercial space licensing, policy and regulation?

A: We do have activity with all of these agencies for obvious reasons. One of the not so obvious reasons is in the area of bandwidth dedicated to military and civil space uses. We have spent a great deal of time working with the DOD, the FCC and the State Department on these matters, particularly as they relate to the Galileo project in Europe.

As for the commercial industry, our involvement is a transitional one, not a direct one. We transition our technology to American industry for it to commercialize it.

Q: As space law buffs know, the UN is a source of international space law development, including the Outer Space Treaty and other agreements. As NASA General Counsel, do you work in the international arena with governing bodies such as the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space? In what ways should international space law be updated to reflect the new global space environment with countries like China and others now joining or poised to join the elite club of space-faring nations?

A: We do have a significant role in the UN activities in the civil space arena. You rightly point out that the place for participation is largely in the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). We just sent a delegation from the U.S., which included DOD, NASA, State and private industry intended to assure the U.S.'s position as a leader in this area. There are many issues that are addressed in that arena, including the militarization of space, orbital debris and commercial conventions that will stimulate insuring of satellites and the financing of satellites.

Last year, I had the privilege of addressing COPUOS regarding the loss of the Columbia. I received the condolences of Ambassadors, representatives and citizens of many countries, as well as a book of condolences from the United Nations offices in Vienna and people who visited there from around the world. It really made me understand just what an international tragedy the loss of Columbia was and the love and respect that the people of the world have for the American people and the STS 107 astronauts.

Q: Washington D.C. is a long way from your home in New Orleans. What do you miss about home? What are the perks or best parts about having a high profile job in the nation's capitol?

A: I commute each week to Washington from New Orleans, which is a bit of a hardship, but doable. I get a lot of work done on the plane, which is good.

I miss my wife and daughter when I am in D.C., especially when I return to my apartment from work in the evening. But I don't have too much time to miss them because I work very late and get up early to get the NASA work done.

The perks are the people I meet and the places I travel. Since being at NASA, I have traveled to many foreign countries and all over the U.S. I have met and worked with President Bush. I have met Presidents and Vice Presidents of other countries, American Ambassadors, foreign Ambassadors, and foreign ministers all over the world. I have met American and foreign scientists who do amazing things. I have met astronauts who are some of the most remarkable people you could meet. I have seen the elation of success of people who make the impossible possible and the tragedy of disaster and the people who suffer through it. But for this appointment by the President, I would not have experienced such an amazing agency with the incredible mission of exploring the universe on behalf of the American people.

Q: Somewhere in our audience may be a future NASA General Counsel. What advice do you have for young lawyers and law students who want to work in federal government and perhaps follow in your footsteps?

A: Government service is a very valuable and worthwhile experience. Whether you are a career lawyer or whether you are like me, a political appointee who serves for a brief period of time. I have met some very competent and capable lawyers who work in government service. The pay is not commensurate with the private sector, but the work is challenging, and the quality of lawyers is remarkable.

I would urge every young lawyer and law student to consider starting your career in government. It is a great proving ground and if you do well, you will succeed in the government career and can be very happy and financially satisfied. If you wish to move to the private sector, you will likely be in demand if you have done your best.

Q: Lastly, as we ask all our Law Stars, who are your personal gurus and Law Stars?

A: My Law Star is my father. He was a lawyer and a community leader. He is now deceased, but he was a tremendous role model for me when he was alive and he inspired me to become a lawyer. He was a solo practitioner for many years and then grew a modest law firm. He worked hard and followed his own dream. He was a gentleman, and at the same time he was a very competent trial lawyer. The thing that has always really meant a lot to me is that wherever I go, lawyers and businessmen who knew my father would always tell me what a fine lawyer and honorable man he was. I learned from him that it was more important to have a fine reputation than having a high-powered law practice.

Q: Thank you very much! And just for fun, do you have a favorite lawyer joke?

A: Not exactly a joke per se, but here is some legislation that some lawyer-hating legislator in Louisiana proposed recently.

Check out here at LawCrossing for current general counsel job openings.

Proposed Legislation:

373.01 Any person with a valid Louisiana State nutria or armadillo hunting license may hunt and harvest attorneys for recreational and sporting purposes.

373.02 The taking of attorneys with steel leg traps or deadfalls is permitted. The use of United States currency as bait is prohibited.

373.03 The willful killing of attorneys with motor vehicles is prohibited, unless the vehicle is an ambulance driven in reverse. If any attorney is accidentally killed by a motor vehicle, the body shall be left on the roadside and the vehicle delivered to the nearest car wash.

373.04 It is unlawful to chase, herd or harvest attorneys by power boat, helicopter or aircraft.

373.05 It is unlawful to shout "WHIPLASH, AMBULANCE or LAST SCOTCH" for the purpose of herding or trapping attorneys.

373.06 It is unlawful to hunt attorneys within 100 yards of BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and Porsche dealerships, except on Wednesdays.

373.07 It is unlawful to hunt attorneys within 200 yards of courtrooms, law libraries, health clubs, massage parlors, country clubs and hospitals.

373.08 A license to hunt or trap attorneys is not required for those gaining elective office.

373.09 It is unlawful for a hunter to disguise as a reporter, accident victim, physician, chiropractor or accountant in the hunting or trapping of attorneys.

373.10 Legal Bag Limit per day:
Yellow-bellied sidewinders: 3
Two-faced Tort Lawyers: 2
Back-stabbing Divorce Litigators: 3
Horn-rimmed Cutthroats: 2
Honest attorneys: 0 (protected - endangered species)
Bottom Feeders: 1

Loyola University


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