Deborah Rhode, Stanford legislation professor and authority on lawful ethics, dies at 68

a child looking at the camera: Deborah L. Rhode became only the second woman to receive tenure at Stanford Law School, where she taught since 1979.

© Stanford Legislation Faculty
Deborah L. Rhode turned only the 2nd woman to get tenure at Stanford Regulation School, wherever she taught because 1979.

As a law college student at Yale in the mid-1970s, Deborah L. Rhode labored at a legal aid clinic, helping customers who ended up not able to afford to pay for lawyers for their divorce instances. Neighborhood attorneys ended up charging as well substantially, she recalled — $1,000 just to fill out paperwork — so she and her colleagues produced a “how to” package for clientele intrigued in representing themselves.

As an alternative of remaining praised for their initiative, Dr. Rhode and the clinic faced authorized threats from the bar affiliation, which threatened to sue for the unauthorized follow of legislation.

The group backed down after a women’s support team presented to place its identify on the kits, supplying deal with for the clinic. But the confrontation remaining Dr. Rhode disillusioned, persuaded that the bar experienced been combating to preserve a monopoly over authorized companies. “I was angry all the time,” she later stated. “I did not have the abdomen for direct providers.”

As an alternative, she channeled her advocacy efforts as a result of the academy, becoming a member of the faculty at Stanford Law Faculty and becoming one particular of the country’s foremost professionals on legal ethics. In new decades she emerged as the field’s most usually cited scholar, topping scholarly rankings compiled by Brian Leiter, a University of Chicago law professor.

Deborah Rhode wearing a suit and tie: An undated portrait of Dr. Rhode.

© Stanford Legislation School
An undated portrait of Dr. Rhode.

“The discipline of legal ethics predated Deborah Rhode — but it was a faint shadow of its existing self,” stated Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford Regulation colleague who collaborated with Dr. Rhode on the casebook “Legal Ethics,” now in its eighth edition. “When Deborah arrived alongside, she remodeled it she infused it with intellectual rigor and insisted that it wouldn’t just be about dry guidelines or summary concepts. Legal ethics would — and would have to — stand for justice, accessibility, integrity and equality.”


As portion of her pursuit of a much more just authorized method, Dr. Rhode mentored generations of students, developed new coaching applications at Stanford Regulation and wrote 30 books, analyzing subjects as diverse as management, sexism, cheating, educational culture and racial variety in the regulation. She was 68 when she died Jan. 8 at her house in Stanford, Calif. The trigger was not quickly identified, said her spouse, Ralph Cavanagh.

“She was passionately fully commited to the benefit that lawyers can carry to modern society, but that led her to be just as passionate in the approaches the career falls limited,” explained David Luban, a Georgetown legislation professor and “Legal Ethics” co-writer. He cited a single of Dr. Rhode’s sharpest critiques, from a 1985 Stanford Law Review posting: “Most attorneys will prefer to depart no stone unturned, offered, of study course, they can demand by the stone.”

In textbooks and essays for newspapers like The Washington Put up, Dr. Rhode championed professional bono observe and proposed new techniques for clients to access legal solutions. She criticized the attorney disciplinary procedure, which she claimed failed to protect shoppers, as effectively as the character-and-health specifications for signing up for the bar, “documenting a long record of physical fitness examiners rejecting people today for bigoted reasons,” according to Luban.

She also popularized the phrase “the ‘no problem’ trouble,” in reference to the actuality that gender inequality was normally dealt with as no difficulty at all — or at least not viewed as a dilemma for these in a position to enact improve. In a 2001 interview with the New York Periods, she famous that ladies were far outnumbered by males in the judiciary, on law school colleges and in law company partnerships, but that the escalating selection of women of all ages in regulation university was “too usually taken as a indication that the ‘women problem’ has been solved.”

“Deborah pushed for increased representation of ladies and individuals of colour in the authorized globe and in academia, specially women of all ages of colour,” reported Shirin Sinnar, a Stanford colleague. “But this was not just a theoretical determination she went out of her way to assistance youthful scholars of colour and ladies as a mentor and buddy.”

Dr. Rhode was only the third woman faculty member at Stanford Legislation when she joined the university in 1979. She afterwards recalled that the dean unsuccessfully tried using to encourage her to instruct negotiable instruments law in its place of sex discrimination, as she wanted, declaring: “You chance typing your self as a girl.”

“Being typed as a lady would hardly appear as a shock to everyone who realized me,” she replied.

Dr. Rhode later grew to become the next girl to get tenure at the faculty, following Barbara Babcock, with whom she was normally baffled inspite of the point that Ms. Rhode was a 5-foot-1 blonde and Babcock was a a lot taller brunette. (Babcock died in April at 81.)

Deborah Rhode looking at the camera: Dr. Rhode was one of the country’s foremost legal ethics scholars.

© Stanford Regulation Faculty
Dr. Rhode was 1 of the country’s foremost legal ethics students.

“At one particular stage Barbara and I circulated a memo inquiring the school to execute a believed experiment: What if you ended up the only gentleman instructing at the legislation faculty? It was like a feather slipping into a effectively,” Ms. Rhode afterwards informed Stanford’s alumni journal. “It grew to become known as the ‘Barbara and Deb will need a friend’ memo. That relatively skipped the point, nevertheless it was legitimate.”

Deborah Lynn Rhode was born in Evanston, Sick., on Jan. 29, 1952, and grew up in the Chicago suburbs of Wilmette and Kenilworth. The daughter of an promotion executive and social employee, she excelled in high faculty discussion, struggling with off in opposition to opponents these as Merrick B. Garland, who was recently nominated as President-elect Joe Biden’s attorney common.

“We have been friendly rivals, but she was way superior than me — she was way superior than anyone,” said Garland, who serves on the federal appeals courtroom in the District and was nominated to the Supreme Court docket in 2016 by President Barack Obama. “The excellent of logical thought, fluid composing, persuasive argument, all of that continued” from her debating times by way of her many years as a scholar, he extra in a telephone job interview.

Dr. Rhode enrolled at Yale in 1970, a 12 months right after the college or university began admitting gals, and grew to become the initially female president of the debate affiliation, beating out Cavanagh. “I was next her with keen fascination just after that,” he quipped. They attended law college collectively and married in 1976, two decades after graduating from university.

In addition to her spouse, of Stanford, survivors involve a sister.

Dr. Rhode acquired a legislation degree in 1977 from Yale, in which she edited the law assessment and directed the moot courtroom board. She commenced clerking for Supreme Courtroom Justice Thurgood Marshall the future calendar year (Garland was just down the hall, clerking for Justice William J. Brennan Jr.), and amazed Marshall with her lawful talent as effectively as her images skill, convincing him to sit for quite a few shots.

Even though Dr. Rhode was considerably from imposing, she created a commanding talking design in the classroom at Stanford, where she peppered her lectures with references to Jean-Paul Sartre, Machiavelli, New Yorker cartoons and the Tv set exhibit “The West Wing.” She started the university’s Heart on Ethics, Middle on the Legal Occupation and Method on Social Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Rhode’s textbooks integrated “The Attractiveness Bias” (2010), an exploration of appearance discrimination “What Gals Want” (2014), a historical past of the women’s movement “The Problems With Lawyers” (2015), which identified difficulties struggling with the American bar and “Character: What It Implies and Why It Matters” (2019).

She also led the Affiliation of American Regulation Educational institutions, which named a public company award in her honor, and served on the American Bar Association’s Fee on Girls in the Job. She was the founding president of the Intercontinental Affiliation of Lawful Ethics and a vice chair of Legal Momentum, an advocacy team for women of all ages.

Even though Dr. Rhode seldom labored in politics, she served as senior investigative counsel to Democrats on the Property Judiciary Committee through impeachment proceedings towards President Bill Clinton. The episode galvanized her analysis into management, according to her partner, and led Dr. Rhode to start out instructing one particular of the first management classes offered at a law university, with a emphasis on attributes this kind of as integrity, self-awareness, empathy and persuasion.

“It is a shameful irony that the occupation that makes the nation’s biggest share of leaders does so minor to prepare them for that purpose,” she wrote in a 2017 Stanford Regulation Overview posting, noting that lawyers made up fewer than 1 percent of the inhabitants but accounted for most American presidents.

“The need for successful leadership,” she additional, “has never been bigger.”

Read much more Washington Publish obituaries:

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice and legal pioneer for gender equality, dies at 87

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