The great patron saint of lawyers, Thomas More, is often attributed with claiming that “God made the angels to show His splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.” It can be no surprise that a fair number of Catholic Studies alumni happily spend their days navigating the complex tangle that is American and international law in order to serve God and the human person.
After Jacob Rhein ’10, ’12 CSMA, and 2015 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, passed the bar, he knew he was going to use his degree to “represent people rather than interests.” His practice focuses on those who have been harmed by the negligence, incompetence or dishonesty of other lawyers.
“When someone hires a lawyer, they’re entrusting life, liberty or property to someone who is supposed to be a ‘zealous advocate,’” said Rhein. “Unfortunately, lawyers frequently hurt their own clients, and few attorneys are willing to stick out their necks against a colleague. I’m glad to be able to restore my clients’ confidence in the legal profession. … Just last month I won a reversal of a murder conviction after two other lawyers had failed to notice an obvious error.”
Still, to keep the Lord’s law, to “love one’s neighbor as oneself,” can be especially challenging in Rhein’s work, particularly when that neighbor has done something truly terrible.
“Whereas some attorneys might view a criminal defense role as defending only the Constitution or due process,” he said, “I view that role as offering undivided loyalty to someone who may have never had a brother, a father or a friend. I believe this approach helps me notice issues in criminal cases that other lawyers miss. It makes me a better advocate.”
Tara Anderson ’04, ’08 J.D./CSMA owns her own firm and specializes in business law. But she leads with the same conviction.
“I do my best to keep the human aspect front and center,” she said, “regardless of the issue at hand – I think it actually results in better advice from a business perspective too. At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of humans interacting in the world, and more often than not the best solution requires truly standing in the other person’s shoes – not necessarily just the shoes of another business, but human to human. This is true regardless of the size of the company. … Catholic studies played a critical role in shaping that approach, because of the emphasis throughout the program on the human person.”
Harvard Law School graduate James Schultz ’08 currently serves as in-house counsel for global investment firm Värde Partners. His work spans a wide range of services from purchasing and investment, to leasing office space, to looking at regulations to ensure his firm is compliant with applicable law.
He credits his time at St. Thomas with helping to form his mind, not just for lawyering but as a lifelong learner.
“[Catholic studies] develops in its students the ability to think about the world rigorously and with an authentically broad perspective. Those habits of thought apply to nearly every bit of work I do day to day.” Schultz noted that he reads 60-plus books a year, and that “This starts with the faculty who themselves are examples of a lifelong pursuit of truth.”
To take even better advantage of the natural overlap between the law and Catholic studies, in 2001, St. Thomas Catholic Studies partnered with the Law School to offer a joint degree.
Leah Koch ’15, ’18 J.D./CSMA, who was a Habiger Institute Leadership Intern as an undergraduate and a Murphy Institute Scholar, was not interested in going to law school without the possibility of a joint degree.
“I just knew, if I were going to law school, I was also going to do the CSMA. It just had
Currently an associate at Campbell Knutson specializing in civil litigation, Koch had long nursed an interest in public service and law watching her own parents serve on various civic and nonprofit boards. She said that the joint degree helped her achieve an important sense of balance.
“The [joint degree] regulated my experience. … Generally speaking, law school means diving into facts and analysis, fact patterns. In Catholic studies we were able to dive into broader ideas about humanity.”
Her practice of law, particularly as it relates to civil issues, also informs her faith.
“It has taught me that we live in a community, and whether it’s the church community or the community more broadly, our faith is lived out with other people,” said Koch. “The law might be broad and vast, but it does situate itself into people’s circumstances and the facts of the case. … The reality of people’s lives is what is shaping the law … it’s not just this far off and away thing. We interact with it.
“In the Church there’s so much room for mercy and forgiveness; mercy is endless,” she said, “as compared to what society has to offer. It’s a more pragmatic, more calculated mercy.”
She noted of particular import was reading Aquinas’ treaty on law with Professor Emeritus Dr. Ken Kemp. Aquinas defines a law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”
She said, “Aquinas put a paradigm in my head so I could see how the law worked,” and it further strengthened her sense of the importance of covenant.
“I didn’t see it before I was in court more often and I watched a number of trials,” she recalled, “and then you go into a wedding and it clicks: Here are two people consenting before the Lord’s court. … The nuptial blessing is the Church approving of this agreement. It’s not really ‘law’ until the Church says so and this is exactly like the Minnesota courts. Consent is received, like marriage vows, and then the court places its ‘blessing’ on these vows, just like the Church.”
She credits her time with St. Thomas Catholic Studies as a critical help in shaping how she practices law, and the kind of Catholic concepts she draws upon, like subsidiarity, “managing concerns or issues at the level that is closest to those at home” on a daily basis.
Rhein agrees that his time at St. Thomas helped to “locate him.” He recalls that while working on his master’s he had the leisure to read all the major works of Christopher Dawson over the course of a couple weeks.
“It was like seeing my location for the first time on Google Maps,” he recalled. “Somewhere in the middle of Dawson’s The Judgment of the Nations, I got my existential bearings within history and really grasped my identity as a modern human. It’s hard to overstate how grounding that experience was for me. This sense of existential ‘place’ has given me a lot of gumption as an advocate and as a small business owner.”
“Subsidiarity matters because the Incarnation matters,” said Koch. “We are sown into a physical place, with bodies. Our physical and geographical location matters. Christ sanctified the ground under our feet. I think it is easy to be absorbed by what is the latest cultural and political news out of the coasts, but our responsibility is right in our towns and cities.”
“I had a professor [at U of M] law school who liked to scandalize her class,” Rhein remembered. “She zinged us one day by asking who the greatest re-framer of legal issues in human history was. A few brave students offered names of jurists like ‘Holmes’ and ‘Posner’ only to be ridiculed by the professor. She then informed us that the correct answer was Jesus of Nazareth. I think she’s right. Almost all the parables that Jesus told were designed to reframe legal issues and get his disciples to think about God and neighbor in better ways. Jesus is a fantastic lawyer.”