Meet the Johnnies: Clayton “Tex” Pasley (A11)
May 28, 2019 | By Kimberly Uslin
St. John’s College alumnus Clayton “Tex” Pasley (A11) was recently selected by the University of Virginia School of Law as a Powell Fellow in Legal Services, an honor named for Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. that supports legal services for low-income populations. Beginning in September, according to an article on the School of Law’s website, Pasley will “aid tenants who face eviction because of a family member’s involvement in juvenile court proceedings” at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago for a one-year term, with the expectation of a second year.
He recently chatted with St. John’s about the authors who inspired him, his unconventional career path, and his advice for Johnnies interested in pursuing law.
Why did you apply to St. John’s?
My sophomore year of high school, I saw the reading list, and I thought ‘These are books I want to read, and I’m not sure that there’s a better time in my life to do it.’ The style of education appealed to me; I really valued the ability to take ownership over what I learned and maybe was a little rebellious—I liked the idea of not having professors who told me what to think.
I really loved it all four years. I was very active in intramurals. I was on the Guardians and was a team captain my junior and senior year, so that comprised a lot of my extracurricular time. My best friends are still the people I met at St. John’s. It was definitely the right place for me at that time in my life, and I think I took full advantage of it, looking back on it.
Was there a particular part of the St. John’s Program that you were drawn to?
I was drawn specifically the lab program. In high school, I definitely gravitated much more towards humanities classes, and if I had gone anywhere else, I probably would have majored in something that was more humanities-focused. But in freshman lab, Ms. Locke was my freshman lab tutor, and I really became engaged in that and she suggested that I become a lab assistant, which I did for the next three years. I enjoyed the hands-on aspect of it. St. John’s made me realize that what I didn’t like about math and science in high school is that it felt very rules-based, when actually it’s as engaging and there are as many questions that you can ask in that kind of setting as you can in an English class or something.
I ended up writing my senior essay on Galileo. What we study in junior year, with calculus and Newtonian mechanics and Galileo as this early modern physicist, were some of the most interesting parts of the Program for me.
If science was your primary interest, why did you pursue law?
After graduating, I actually worked in a craft brewery for three years, so that kind of started from the lab work. At the time, I was very motivated to not go to grad school and to do something that was out in the ‘real world.’ I enjoyed doing it, but I think at a certain point recognized that what I was doing felt sort of selfish and that it just didn’t feel sustainable.
I took some time thinking about what I wanted to do. When I graduated, I had no plans to go to law school. I ended up starting to do part-time volunteer work with the Innocence Project in Arizona doing case background research, and through doing that I became interested in law as a way to help people and feel like I really had a job with a purpose to it.
Did you feel that St. John’s had prepared you for law school?
In law school, every day you have a reading assignment, and you talk about the reading assignment, but there’s no feedback really, grade-wise, until the end of the semester. St. John’s was very different in that your grades are the least important part of your education. But I think I was very prepared for having a lot of difficult reading material thrust in front of you and being forced to work your way through it. That’s something I was very used to, especially in reading lots of old cases that have very archaic language and aren’t immediately clear. That made it easy. The difficult thing is that law school is a very competitive academic market and you’re on a curve, but I think in a way St. John’s helped me prepare for that because what I took away from St. John’s is finding purpose, setting your own academic goals for yourself, and not relying on external indicators. I was able to manage the stress that was imposed by that sort of arbitrary external grading mechanism.
What area of law did you concentrate on?
I went into law school thinking that I wanted to do criminal justice-related work, but I ended up gravitating more towards a hybrid, where I did some criminal-related work, but also did a lot of work at the local legal aid office, which basically provides free legal services to people for civil matters. By my third year, I was spending more time at an organization called the Legal Aid Justice Center than I was in law school. I was really drawn to housing work, so the Powell Fellowship is kind of an intersection of the juvenile justice system with housing.
This fellowship in particular is funded by UVA, but the nonprofit that I’m working for I interned with after my second year of law school in Chicago. I wanted to come back to them, so I basically put the project together with them and we applied for outside funding.
There’s a pretty large nonprofit legal services community in Chicago, and I think it positions me well to find something either at that organization or something similar—that’s the plan.
What advice would you have for current and future Johnnies who are interested in law?
The path I took to law school is not the most deliberate by any means, but I think it really is a very kind of competitive experience. For me, it helps having just experienced [something] between graduating from college and flew school. You learn a lot about yourself just spending time out in the world trying to make a paycheck.