Vice President of Litigation and Arbitration (retired), Emerson
As an attorney, Michael J. Keating stands out in his STEM-focused family.
His father is a physicist, while his two brothers are both engineers.
“I was the black sheep,” he said. “I always wanted to go to law school and be a lawyer.”
The St. Louis native studied political science and history as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, then graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law in 1979.
Out of law school, he clerked for U.S. District Judge H. Kenneth Wangelin at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and Chief Judge Harry L.C. Weier of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District.
Following his clerkships, he joined what then was Bryan Cave in St. Louis, where for nearly two years he worked in the areas of antitrust, securities, labor law and general commercial litigation. He moved in-house as corporate attorney at Emerson in 1983.
Keating said the electrical equipment company was looking for someone to handle product liability work. While he didn’t have a background in that area, he opted to give it a shot. He spent the next 36 years at the company.
At the end of September, he retired from his most recent role of 11 years, vice president of litigation and arbitration. He’s continuing to work as a special advisor to the general counsel during his retirement.
Keating said the company’s work is both dynamic and challenging, both of which went a long way toward keeping him engaged during his tenure there. The company is leanly staffed, and its attorneys are given plenty of responsibility, he said.
“I think that’s what Emerson does,” he said. “They get people who want to work hard, want to be challenged, and they continue to challenge you. I’ve never been bored. It’s very intellectually stimulating.”
Keating said part of what made his work for the company unique was that Emerson is self-insured. That changes the decision-making of the company in litigation.
“It can pick the lawyer it wants, its strategy, its experts, and decide how to defend it,” he said.
Early on during his time with Emerson, Keating said, the company also adopted the position that it should seek to tell its story fully in front of a jury — which included requesting jury trials.
“It’s fascinating how many times we’ll be in a litigation or threaten litigation, and other companies are afraid of being in front of a jury — they’re terrified of that,” he said. “We have confidence if we tell a story fully, the jury will understand and ratify our conduct. It’s a different philosophy.”
He said he is proud of that strategy.
“We thought if we defended our products aggressively but fairly, we would dissuade people from suing, and that has borne out,” he said.
As an attorney, Keating said he’s been guided by the philosophy of being a person of integrity.
“It sounds kind of corny, but I think integrity is important,” he said. “We want to do the right thing. We are aggressive, but we are fair — ethics is hammered into people.”
Keating is an active member of his local parish, St. Richard Catholic Church in Creve Coeur. He’s also a member of the board of directors for the Product Liability Advisory Council, a specialty bar association focused on the areas of product development and product liability.