September 05, 2012
Michael A. Simons, J.D., Dean of St. John’s
School of Law and John V. Brennan Professor of Law and Ethics,
joined St. John’s in 1998. Like his father before him (
Andrew J. Simons ’65L, Vice Dean Emeritus), Dean
Simons came to the University after a distinguished career as a
practicing attorney. He has been a federal prosecutor, a criminal
defense lawyer and the staff attorney for The Washington Post.
He was appointed Dean in 2009.
What was your first career
My father was a lawyer, and my mother was a teacher. I always
assumed I would become one or the other. I flirted with the idea of
a music career when I was an undergraduate. I was having fun
experimenting with electronic music — composing and splicing tapes
in the studio. But a combination of stage fright and lack of talent
soon put an end to that idea.
Do you remember your first day at St.
Yes, it was in June 1998. That was the day I found out that law
professors don’t wear ties in the summer — only deans do.
Describe a typical workday for you as
Meetings, meetings, e-mails and then, more meetings. One of the
wonderful things about being a dean is that I serve a lot of
constituencies — students, faculty, alumni, administrators, staff,
the broader University community, members of the legal profession
and bar exam regulators. The variety of my responsibilities makes
every work day interesting.
If you could be or do anything else,
what might that be?
I would do research in cognitive psychology — I’ve always been
fascinated by how the mind works.
What’s the one thing about you that
very few people know?
It’s not quite a secret, but 25 years ago, I asked my high school
girlfriend to marry me, and fortunately she said yes. I also don’t
think it’s widely known that we rented a house boat this summer for
our family vacation in the Thousand Islands.
Recently, with four teenagers at home, I’ve
become very conversant with pop music. I can talk with my
daughters about their favorite singers in the boy band One
Direction. Or, I can discuss the relative merits of Katy Perry and
Nicki Minaj with my sons. However, my own personal
favorite is, of course, J Cole ’07CPS.
As Dean, how would you like to be
For proactively leading the Law School through a period of dramatic
change due to the impact of globalization and technology. Legal
education, like education in other professions, is adapting to new
demands and marketplace competition.
One big change is that new lawyers are
increasingly expected to be ready to practice law on the day they
graduate. We have always been committed to producing graduates who
are profession-ready, and that is more important now than ever
What five words or terms would you use
to describe the School of Law?
Academically rigorous, effective, career-focused, transparent and
caring. I am proud that our administration and faculty are so
student-centered, and that we provide a family-like, supportive
What’s your proudest achievement at
We’ve made major strides in becoming more focused on student career
development. From the very first day they enter, students take part
in a proactive and individualized career-related process that is
fully integrated with their academic experience.
We have also gained recognition for
transparency. St. John’s was one of only six law schools in the
country to be awarded an A+ by
The National Jurist magazine for the transparency of our
What makes a degree from the Law
School so valuable?
We have always been known for producing graduates who are
well-trained, profession-ready, hardworking, eager for success and
willing to put in the effort required to do the best possible job.
This is what makes our graduates so attractive and appealing to
What’s the best piece of advice you
could give a student?
At Orientation in August, I told entering students to approach
their legal education as if they were entrepreneurs. “You are the
product,” I said, “and your next three years should be devoted to
What’s an important lesson you’ve
learned from a student?
Never give up and never underestimate what hard work can
accomplish. When I first started teaching here, one of my students
was ranked dead last in her class at the end of her first semester.
Many students would have just given up, but she methodically
consulted with her professors and changed the way she approached
the material and prepared for exams.
Her grades steadily improved, and she ended up
graduating in the top third of her class. Today she is not only a
very successful lawyer, but she is also an adjunct professor at the