Since graduating summa cum laude from Capital University Law School, Kelly Kay (L ’98) has held top leadership roles at Lyft, MasterCard, eBay and PayPal, and is today the President and chief financial officer for Toyota Research Institute – the Research & Development arm of the Japanese auto manufacturer.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do when she entered CapLaw in the mid ‘90s. An avid reader, Kelly says, “I went to law school thinking I would be an English professor.”
She credits Professor Peggy Cordray with helping her to discover her love for “the complexity of the rules” in her administrative law and evidence courses. In her second year, Professor Cordray asked Kelly about her internship plans. When she said she was not sure and had no plans, the professor connected her with a former student who worked at Bank One, now JPMorgan Chase. Kelly loved her internship and they loved her. She became the first lawyer to receive a job offer from the bank straight out of law school. “It was an amazing experience that I don’t think I would have had if Professor Cordray hadn’t asked the question,” Kelly says. “I probably never would have been a lawyer without this opportunity. It helped me find myself and find what I was good at. It drove a passion I didn’t know I had.”
After earning her undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University, Kelly chose CapLaw for its size. “I wanted to go to a smaller, more manageable law school,” she says, “where I could engage more with my professors, engage more with other students and be more a part of a community.”
She found all of those at Capital where she built close relationships that continue today. Professor Cordray wasn’t the only professor to recognize her potential. Kelly remembers being called into Professor N. Douglass Wells’ office following her first Property exam. Initially intimidated, she soon discovered that she had earned the highest score he had ever given on an exam. “He wanted to know how I did it,” she says with a laugh.
That interaction opened other doors for her. Professor Wells, now a faculty emeritus, was losing his eyesight at the time and asked Kelly to help with research and exam preparation.
Kelly says the skills she learned in law school have proven invaluable in her career. “I tend to hire lawyers because they think differently than others and work harder.”
She says at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she took on the additional role of chief diversity & inclusion officer at TRI where she works closely with the LGBTQ+ employee resource group.
Kelly soon began to better appreciate the issues this diverse and unique community face in the workplace, including how “coming out” or being out might impact their careers. It made her realize the potential impact creating a safe space could have for this often overlooked and underrepresented group. She wanted to do something to help those starting their careers in the law.
“I felt the LGBTQ+ community was an underrepresented group that was special to me,” she says.
At the time, she had experienced a number of deaths in her family and decided it was time to put together a trust and a will. She established The Kelly A. Kay, L ’98, LGBTQ+ Equality Law Scholarship, which will be funded through her estate.
Kelly hopes the fund will support students to have an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have while allowing them “to celebrate who they are as individuals and what they can become as lawyers.”
Becoming emotional, Kelly says, “It was time to give back to the university that helped me and gave so much to me. It was important.”
She has fond memories of her time at CapLaw, including studying in a building that at one time had been a morgue before the school’s move to 303 E. Broad St. “When I was at Capital, it was still on High Street in German Village,” she says. “We used to study in the library that was previously a morgue. My study group always found it fun and a bit spooky, often making up stories and laughing our way through intense study sessions.”
The camaraderie she shared with fellow law students also holds special memories. “Generally, we all worked really hard and created lasting friendships,” she says. “We’d finish our exams, and it was time for fun!”
Today, her visits to Capital inspire awe in the current students as they listen to her talks and hang on her every word. “It’s humbling and really, really weird,” she says, “and you can quote me on that. I’m still wondering how I got here.”