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John Kastl – TV Doctor Turned Law Student


As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, John Kastl double majored in biology and drama.

The son of an ER doctor, Kastl admired his father and saw that his dad loved being a doctor. That biology degree was originally intended to be the first step in following the same path.

But it was the other degree, the one in dramatic arts, that led to Kastl’s becoming a doctor—at least on TV as Dr. Doug Murphy, a recurring character on the show Scrubs.

“My father, even more coincidentally, is an ER doctor, which is what I was on Scrubs,” Kastl says, noting his character was actually a failed ER doctor. “I would ask my dad for little anecdotes that I could pass onto the producers of things that happened, little pranks that they did and he would tell me. I think the producers got a kick out of that and they kept me around.”

Kastl, now a 2L at the University of Iowa College of Law, says creating any type of career requires tenacity. For example, moving to Los Angeles as an unknown actor among throngs of unknown actors requires patience and persistence.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice,” he says. “I think the one thing I can say about acting is that no obstacles that I’ve ever experienced in my life compared to the challenges that face an actor trying to create a career in an industry where the only person who cares about your success is you.”

Having moved on from his career as an actor, Kastl says he is studying to be a litigator and found he’s drawn to white-collar crime when he landed a law clerk position with the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa.

He says it is comparable to well-written scripts with subtext.

“What is said on the page is not at all true for the character. Someone can say I’m so happy but they’re crying at the same time they’re saying it,” Kastl says. “A lot of white-collar crimes are those kinds of puzzles.”

“It’s really enjoyable to just get into any kind of fraud case and just see how the puzzle unfolds.”

Although law school is rigorous, Kastl says it doesn’t compare to living in Los Angeles, being broke, and trying to create a career.

“One thing that you learn in Los Angeles is that your merits are never enough because everybody thinks they can act; everybody believes they are the funniest person in the world,” he says. “Everybody has this sense of entitlement, but at the end of the day, that is never enough.”

Instead, what matters is interacting with people and following up with them.

“I think that kind of gets lost in this game that is law school,” Kastl says. “I think that having gone through the ringer in Los Angeles not only taught me well for what you’re up against in law school––and not just in law school but outside of law school.

“Everything you do, you have to have that tenacity that you want to be the best and know that you are not only not the best, but there are probably 10 people, minimum, who can kick your ass. How are you going to stand up and show people that you deserve to be where you are?”

John Kastl After Class

Favorite Weekend Activity

“Being with my wife and kids more than anything. Any free time I have, I am on the floor with them, playing with them.”

Most Recent Thing Read for Fun

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Favorite Scrubs Moment

“Without a doubt, it would have to be the elevator scene with Zach Braff,” Kastl says. “It’s where he’s hiding in a body bag and I think it’s a dead body and he, from within the body bag, asks if I can hit the button to go to the lobby, and I completely wig out. I grab the fire extinguisher off the elevator and just start beating him senseless.” (From the fifth season episode “My Way Home”)

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By Matthew Gorney.

Matthew Gorney, University of Kansas School of Law.

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.