The Connection Between Liberal Arts, the Law, and St. John’s College

June 5, 2024 | By Kirstin Fawcett

100 percent of St. John’s grads who have applied to law school are typically admitted. Here are some ways the Program sets them up for success.

After spending several years wrestling through big questions, difficult texts, and rigorous discussions, it’s no surprise that many St. John’s College graduates go on to law school and do, well, more of the same. The Program serves as an unofficial incubator for attorneys in training, from its emphasis on close reading to its Socratic-style seminars. And graduate admissions committees take notice: historically, 100 percent of St. John’s grads who have applied to law school have been admitted, according to Jaime Dunn, Director of Career Development in Annapolis. Here are some ways the Program sets these applicants up for success.

A St. John’s education examines enduring questions of justice.

A St. John’s Education Teaches You to Think like a Lawyer

“I think that the St. John’s education is a great pre-law program because it gives students experience with … critical thinking,” says Brett Heavner (A89), a partner at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett, & Dunner LLP, a full-service intellectual property law firm in Washington, D.C.

“One aspect of being a lawyer is that you first learn the legal rule, and then you use critical thinking to apply that rule to different scenarios that your clients have brought to you,” Heavner explains. “That seems like a lot of what we were doing in the math tutorials [at St. John’s]. You first learn principal mathematical rules that you base your logical thinking on, like Euclid’s definitions and postulates, and then you start building your mathematical universe by applying those to the facts that you’re presented with. That is very similar to what you do in law school.”

A St. John’s Education Prepares You for the Law School Entrance Exams

LSAT practice exams might look familiar to Johnnies off the bat. That’s because its infamously dense Reading Comprehension section frequently draws from canonical works of literature, philosophy, history, and science—think Aristotle’s Politics, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Livy’s History of Early Rome and Machiavelli’s The Prince to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  Many of these texts are read in full and discussed by St. John’s students, providing them with an edge once test time rolls around. As a bonus, St. John’s also trains students to analyze primary texts as standalone objects—a key practice required for the LSAT, which is designed to test one’s ability to distinguish between analysis vs. assumption. For students interested in the GRE or JD-Next instead of the LSAT for entrance exam options, the college’s career development offices also provide preparation and guidance.

A St. John’s Education Trains You to Be Quick on Your Feet

“Socratic seminar” refers to a formal discussion rooted in text guided by open-ended questions. Law schools have historically used the Socratic method to teach students to clarify ideas, support their arguments, and analyze legal concepts on the fly. And at St. John’s College, both undergraduate and Graduate Institute students regularly engage in Socratic-style seminars throughout their time in the Program.

“Knowing what questions to ask, when to listen, and when to challenge, are the skills that ultimately St. John’s is all about,” says Jocelyn Bramble (AGI98), who attended Harvard Law School and then worked in private practice and for the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking. “It’s about encountering information, wrestling with great thinkers, listening to your colleagues, and the dialogue with your colleagues.”

Gabriela Quercia Kahrl (A02), an assistant public defender at the Office of the Public Defender in Maryland, agrees: Seminar “taught me to be quick on my feet—to be able to deal with surprising topics, like unexpected questions from judges and arguments from opposing counsel,” she says.

A St. John’s Education Examines Enduring Questions of Justice

A St. John’s Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts is equivalent to a double major in philosophy and mathematics. And at the end of the day, law—an entire system built upon ideals pertaining to truth, character, conduct, and justice—is all about philosophy.

“Questions of justice were a running theme throughout my time at St. John’s,” says Thomas Barry (SF13), a legal fellow in the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies and editor‐in‐chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

“I was attracted to a career in law,” Barry explains, “because it is the practical application of these philosophical questions; every legal dispute involves at least two parties whose wants are incompatible with each other and must somehow be weighed.”

A St. John’s Education Encourages Open-Mindedness

St. John’s is far from an echo chamber. The intimate nature of seminar—which seats individuals from all walks of life together to discuss universal yet deeply personal themes—teaches students to consider perspectives they’ve previously overlooked. This skill is just as essential in a courtroom as it is in a college classroom, according to Kahrl.

“Over the course of seminars at St. John’s, you find ways to talk to people, even people you violently disagree with and to truly consider, take seriously, and try to understand views that are reprehensible to you,” Kahrl says. “As a lawyer, you must get to know people who might make you deeply uncomfortable, with ideas that make you uncomfortable, and you must encounter them with openness and curiosity.”

A St. John’s Education Teaches Students to Help Others

Students at St. John’s often find that they learn as much from their classmates as they do from their tutors. Classes and assignments are collaborative, compelling students to combine strengths while navigating the Program. And just like being a Johnnie, being a lawyer is all about helping others wrestle through a problem and towards a potential resolution.

“From day one, even as an associate, I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” says Joan Haratani (SF79), who is a partner at law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and serves as a board member of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). “And as I learn from being a mentor, I also learn from my mentees. It’s like the Great Books: you give something, and you get something in return.”