Deborah Rhode, Stanford regulation 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 Law School
Deborah L. Rhode grew to become only the next woman to receive tenure at Stanford Regulation College, exactly where she taught due to the fact 1979.

As a regulation college student at Yale in the mid-1970s, Deborah L. Rhode worked at a authorized aid clinic, helping consumers who ended up not able to manage attorneys for their divorce conditions. Area lawyers were being charging way too a great deal, she recalled — $1,000 just to fill out paperwork — so she and her colleagues developed a “how to” package for purchasers fascinated in representing on their own.

Alternatively of currently being praised for their initiative, Dr. Rhode and the clinic faced authorized threats from the bar association, which threatened to sue for the unauthorized practice of law.

The firm backed down immediately after a women’s guidance team presented to set its title on the kits, giving protect for the clinic. But the confrontation still left Dr. Rhode disillusioned, persuaded that the bar experienced been preventing to maintain a monopoly about authorized products and services. “I was angry all the time,” she later mentioned. “I didn’t have the belly for immediate expert services.”

In its place, she channeled her advocacy attempts as a result of the academy, becoming a member of the college at Stanford Regulation University and turning out to be one particular of the country’s foremost specialists on lawful ethics. In new yrs she emerged as the field’s most frequently cited scholar, topping scholarly rankings compiled by Brian Leiter, a College 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 area of lawful ethics predated Deborah Rhode — but it was a faint shadow of its latest self,” reported Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford Legislation colleague who collaborated with Dr. Rhode on the casebook “Legal Ethics,” now in its eighth version. “When Deborah arrived together, she reworked it she infused it with mental rigor and insisted that it would not just be about dry regulations or summary principles. Lawful ethics would — and would have to — stand for justice, access, integrity and equality.”


As portion of her pursuit of a extra just legal process, Dr. Rhode mentored generations of scholars, made new training systems at Stanford Law and wrote 30 books, examining topics as varied as leadership, sexism, cheating, educational society and racial variety in the legislation. She was 68 when she died Jan. 8 at her property in Stanford, Calif. The bring about was not promptly known, said her husband, Ralph Cavanagh.

“She was passionately dedicated to the benefit that lawyers can bring to society, but that led her to be just as passionate in the techniques the career falls short,” explained David Luban, a Georgetown legislation professor and “Legal Ethics” co-creator. He cited one particular of Dr. Rhode’s sharpest critiques, from a 1985 Stanford Law Evaluation write-up: “Most lawyers will prefer to leave no stone unturned, provided, of study course, they can cost by the stone.”

In textbooks and essays for newspapers which includes The Washington Submit, Dr. Rhode championed pro bono observe and proposed new techniques for clientele to accessibility authorized products and services. She criticized the lawyer disciplinary procedure, which she reported failed to guard customers, as effectively as the character-and-physical fitness demands for joining the bar, “documenting a very long background of fitness examiners rejecting people for bigoted good reasons,” according to Luban.

She also popularized the term “the ‘no problem’ trouble,” in reference to the fact that gender inequality was often addressed as no difficulty at all — or at the very least not considered a problem for individuals in a posture to enact modify. In a 2001 interview with the New York Periods, she pointed out that gals have been significantly outnumbered by guys in the judiciary, on legislation university schools and in law company partnerships, but that the growing selection of girls in legislation university was “too usually taken as a sign that the ‘women problem’ has been solved.”

“Deborah pushed for increased representation of gals and individuals of coloration in the authorized globe and in academia, primarily girls of coloration,” stated Shirin Sinnar, a Stanford colleague. “But this was not just a theoretical motivation she went out of her way to help young scholars of color and women as a mentor and buddy.”

Dr. Rhode was only the third female college member at Stanford Regulation when she joined the university in 1979. She later on recalled that the dean unsuccessfully attempted to encourage her to train negotiable devices legislation in its place of sex discrimination, as she needed, stating: “You possibility typing you as a female.”

“Being typed as a woman would hardly appear as a shock to any one who knew me,” she replied.

Dr. Rhode later on grew to become the next woman to receive tenure at the university, following Barbara Babcock, with whom she was normally bewildered in spite of the simple fact that Ms. Rhode was a 5-foot-1 blonde and Babcock was a substantially 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 a person of the country’s foremost authorized ethics students.

“At one issue Barbara and I circulated a memo asking the faculty to carry out a imagined experiment: What if you were being the only gentleman instructing at the regulation school? It was like a feather slipping into a properly,” Ms. Rhode later on informed Stanford’s alumni magazine. “It became regarded as the ‘Barbara and Deb need to have a friend’ memo. That rather skipped the place, even though it was accurate.”

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 large faculty debate, facing off versus opponents this kind of as Merrick B. Garland, who was a short while ago nominated as President-elect Joe Biden’s attorney basic.

“We have been friendly rivals, but she was way improved than me — she was way superior than anyone,” explained Garland, who serves on the federal appeals court docket in the District and was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016 by President Barack Obama. “The high quality of rational assumed, fluid composing, persuasive argument, all of that continued” from her debating times through her many years as a scholar, he added in a cellular phone interview.

Dr. Rhode enrolled at Yale in 1970, a calendar year following the college began admitting women of all ages, and grew to become the first female president of the discussion affiliation, beating out Cavanagh. “I was subsequent her with keen interest immediately after that,” he quipped. They attended legislation university together and married in 1976, two several years right after graduating from college or university.

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

Dr. Rhode acquired a law diploma in 1977 from Yale, where by she edited the legislation assessment and directed the moot court docket board. She began clerking for Supreme Court docket Justice Thurgood Marshall the following calendar year (Garland was just down the hall, clerking for Justice William J. Brennan Jr.), and amazed Marshall with her lawful expertise as effectively as her pictures talent, convincing him to sit for several images.

Though Dr. Rhode was significantly from imposing, she produced a commanding speaking design in the classroom at Stanford, wherever she peppered her lectures with references to Jean-Paul Sartre, Machiavelli, New Yorker cartoons and the Television set clearly show “The West Wing.” She started the university’s Heart on Ethics, Center on the Lawful Job and Program on Social Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Rhode’s textbooks involved “The Magnificence Bias” (2010), an exploration of appearance discrimination “What Ladies Want” (2014), a heritage of the women’s motion “The Difficulties With Lawyers” (2015), which identified difficulties experiencing the American bar and “Character: What It Signifies and Why It Matters” (2019).

She also led the Association of American Regulation Faculties, which named a public provider award in her honor, and served on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Females in the Career. She was the founding president of the Intercontinental Association of Lawful Ethics and a vice chair of Legal Momentum, an advocacy group for women of all ages.

Even though Dr. Rhode rarely worked in politics, she served as senior investigative counsel to Democrats on the Dwelling Judiciary Committee in the course of impeachment proceedings from President Monthly bill Clinton. The episode galvanized her investigate into leadership, in accordance to her husband, and led Dr. Rhode to start out instructing a person of the very first leadership classes made available at a regulation college, with a target on attributes these types of as integrity, self-awareness, empathy and persuasion.

“It is a shameful irony that the profession that provides the nation’s greatest share of leaders does so little to put together them for that part,” she wrote in a 2017 Stanford Legislation Review article, noting that attorneys produced up fewer than 1 per cent of the populace but accounted for most American presidents.

“The will need for powerful management,” she extra, “has in no way been better.”

Go through more Washington Write-up obituaries:

Barbara Babcock, authorized trailblazer who led D.C. Public Defender Service, dies at 81

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

Michael Sovern, lawful scholar and unifying drive at Columbia University, dies at 88

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