Student turns childhood memories into promising career in labor law
Heddy Pierce-Armstrong is graduating from the University of Kansas School of Law this spring and looks forward to discovering what the future will hold.
Pierce-Armstrong’s inspiration to attend law school came in the form of a hard-working, take-no-lip mother of two – her own mother. She recalls some of her earliest memories spent on a picket line while her mother’s union was on strike.
“I also remember sitting at the very front of every monthly union meeting with my mom and her friends who were unafraid to speak their minds about injustices in the workplace,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “During these times, I was so proud of my mom.”
Pierce Armstrong’s mother served as a shop steward at her plant. She attended grievance meetings and represented people at the plant facing various forms of discipline.
“I describe her job as being like a lawyer inside the plant,” Pierce-Armstrong said.
She had such great admiration for her mother’s passion and fight that she decided to earn a law degree and get the official title of lawyer.
A longtime resident of El Dorado, Pierce-Armstrong stayed close to her roots and earned her degree in women, gender and sexuality studies at KU before continuing directly on to KU Law as a summer starter.
“I wanted to be somewhere that was a truly collegial atmosphere. A place where students were supported by faculty and change was welcomed,” said Pierce-Armstrong. “At Admitted Students Weekend, I really saw the culture of the school.”
It took no time for Pierce-Armstrong to fully immerse herself in the law school experience, compiling an impressive list of extracurriculars including co-president of the Student Ambassadors; president of OUTLaws and Allies; participant in the Shook Hardy & Bacon Diversity Scholars Institute; and a member of Women in Law, Public Interest Law Society, First-Generation Professionals, Non-Traditional Law Students, the Native American Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association.
“The clubs, particularly the diverse student organizations, have helped me retain interest, purpose and drive while in law school,” said Pierce-Armstrong.
She also took advantage of the hands-on learning programs offered at KU Law, participating in both the Legal Aid Clinic and Mediation Clinic.
“The clinics have been immensely valuable to my future as an actual attorney,” Pierce-Armstrong said.
Pierce-Armstrong dedicated a blog to the Legal Aid Clinic and the people who keep it running earlier this year, discussing a multitude of reasons why every student should take advantage of the learning opportunity.
Gathering more real-world experience, Pierce-Armstrong competed in mock trial and moot court competitions, including the National Native American Law Student Moot Court (NNALSA) competition which she recalls as one of her favorite law school memories. As a 1L, she traveled with the moot court competition team to observe the competition in San Francisco.
“I was so lucky to learn in my first year just how successful KU NALSA had been in the past,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “I also watched two very talented KU mooters advance to the semi-finals that year. Getting to go on that trip and seeing the talent that existed in that area of expertise drew me in to participate on the moot court team throughout law school.”
Pierce-Armstrong competed in the NNALSA competition in 2021 and 2022. She also competed in the All-Star Mock Trial Bracket Challenge in 2021.
In terms of academic courses, Pierce-Armstrong has taken a unique route as labor law is not a common area of focus, but she praises KU Law for helping accommodate her needs.
“For example, there is not specific labor law curriculum at the school,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “However, that ended up not mattering because I was able to kind of create a carved-out labor curriculum to show future employers that I was truly invested in the work.”
Pierce-Armstrong earned a competitive fellowship with the Peggy Browning Fund, established to prepare the next generation of advocates for workplace justice.
“My application stood out because of my proven interest and education that showed I wanted to work with or for a union,” Pierce-Armstrong said. “KU Law prepared me for the workforce by being flexible and helping to offer classes that were necessary for my future as well as assisted in connecting me with people whose interests align with mine.”
After graduation, Pierce-Armstrong plans to take a break and recoup from the whirlwind of law school and spend more time with family.
She will call on her education and experiences at KU Law as she continues on to her professional career, and she will always remember the childhood memories that got her here.
“I heard so many women’s voices loudly at union meetings. I saw marginalized people stand up for their needs,” said Pierce-Armstrong. “I witnessed the union help families down on their luck.”
She looks forward to fighting for unions by negotiating equitable contracts and representing union members in arbitrations.
“As a lawyer, I will have the needed skill to make the most impact possible,” Pierce-Armstrong said.
–By Sydney Halas
This post is the seventh in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2022. Check out previous stories about Olivia Black, Parker Bednasek, Cortez Downey, Ashlyn Shultz, Dahnika Short and Trey Duran. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.