Engaged in Law

March 20, 2017 | By Tim Pratt

Joe Lunati (SF14) now attends Georgetown Law School.
Joe Lanuti (SF14) now attends Georgetown University Law Center.

When Joe Lanuti was looking at colleges, his interest in philosophy drew him to St. John’s College in Santa Fe.

The Nevada native wanted to read the great books of Western civilization. So he did, taking a special interest in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle.

Little did Lanuti know that those readings, coupled with a legal study group he joined, would put him on a path toward a career in law.

Now, he’s attending Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. This comes after he spent two years working at a law office in Nevada, and was influential in getting legislation proposed to put cameras in special-education classrooms.

“I think St. John’s is the best preparer for law school; I honestly do,” he says. “It’s a lot like St. John’s in a certain way. The rigor is the same. You’re reading all the time. You’re analyzing, you’re writing. That’s the bread and butter.”

When Lanuti was attending St. John’s, his interest was piqued by the law. He participated in a legal study group, where he read and discussed Supreme Court decisions, and was drawn to the works of Aquinas and Aristotle. He also was active in student government.

After graduation, Lanuti returned to Nevada to work with his mother, Marianne Lanuti, a lawyer who specializes in special-education issues. Marianne Lanuti has sought to get cameras installed in special-education classrooms since 2004.

The goal, she says, is to provide protection—especially for students who can’t speak—against abuse. The cameras would serve as a deterrent, but also provide video evidence if abuse does occur.

While Marianne Lanuti’s efforts have been going on for more than a decade, she had little success. Then her son joined the cause and their efforts began to pay off.

The St. John’s graduate met with stakeholders, wrote an article for a Hispanic autism group publication—released in October—and studied up on a law in Texas that put cameras in special-education classrooms there.

A draft of a bill Joe Lanuti put together went to Nevada Sen. Becky Harris, who submitted her own legislation for consideration. The bill went before the state’s Senate Committee on Education a few weeks ago and is still under consideration.

“If it weren’t for Joey, (the proposed legislation) probably would not have happened,” Marianne Lanuti says. “Joey was able to go from stakeholder to stakeholder and be very passionate about his communication in a non-threatening way.”

Joe Lanuti says the communication skills he picked up at St. John’s, where discussion is part of day-to-day life in the classroom, helped him as he worked on the camera issue and other cases with the law firm.

“I think whenever you have a conversation after St. John’s, you’re a lot better at being careful with your language and listening to people,” he says. “St. John’s teaches you how to have a real dialogue, so it was helpful in settlement conferences where we had to figure out where they were coming from and try to explain where we were coming from and come to an agreement.”

“It was the same thing when talking with legislators,” he continues. “You have to feel out what they want out of it and appeal to that, and at the same try to explain the benefits to your bill and how it will help.”

Those conversation skills, and the ability to provide thoughtful analysis, were skills Joe Lanuti honed as an undergraduate in Santa Fe. Marianne Lanuti noticed the difference in her son’s ability to form cogent arguments when she attended his senior oral examination.

“He was not the same kid I dropped off freshman year,” she says. “Not even close.”

Now that Joe Lanuti is attending law school, the reading, writing and communication skills he picked up at St. John’s are coming in handy. One difference, however, is that there is a lot less student engagement in class. That’s where his St. John’s background makes him stand out.

“The one thing I miss about St. John’s is there’s not as much communication (in law school),” he says. “You do participate, but not nearly as often. So I end up volunteering more than my peers because that’s how I stay interested. I’m just used to it from St. John’s.”