I am truly honored to become the 12th dean of Stanford Law School. It is a daunting task to succeed people of the caliber of Kathleen M. Sullivan, Paul Brest, and all of the other great deans who served before me. It is also an exciting task. There is so much we can—and, I hope, will—do together. But conversations about the future can wait, at least for now. In this, my first communication to you, I want instead to say a few words about what drew me to accept the position of dean. 

One reason should seem obvious: Stanford is a great law school. One does not need rankings to see what a remarkable institution this is. Just read the books and articles Stanford’s faculty publish; or talk to the lawyers and judges, clients and businessmen who hire its graduates; or look at the vibrant intellectual life the faculty and students have together created. As for Stanford’s alumni, they are everywhere in wildly disproportionate numbers—from the U.S. Supreme Court to the U.S. Congress, from leading corporate and commercial law firms to major public interest and public advocacy organizations, from the executive boards of blue-chip corporations to countless start-ups that embody and reflect Stanford’s innovative, entrepreneurial spirit. 

Yet for all its impressiveness, the quality and prestige of the law school would not alone have induced me to abandon the life of a full-time teacher and scholar. I loved being in the classroom, just as I loved having the time and freedom to read and write about whatever interested me. Certain other features of Stanford, in conjunction with its quality, drew me here—features those of you who studied here may take for granted. 

There is, to begin with, the school’s size. Stanford is a small school—indeed, a very small school. And speaking as someone who has spent time at much larger institutions, it is hard to overstate the importance of this quality. Stanford’s smallness fosters an intellectual and educational intimacy that cannot be matched, and is perhaps no longer even remembered, in the large factories that many top law schools have become. Its smallness means that students can get to know all of their classmates, sharing the exhilarating experience of discovering law while developing lifelong personal and professional bonds. Students and faculty get to know each other as well, creating a community that nurtures everyone’s work. From the perspective of a dean, smallness means having an opportunity to be a genuine part of this community. Deans at many schools today are less and less participants in the intellectual life of their institutions. The modern dean is more like a corporate manager, responsible for overseeing sprawling operations of which students and faculty have become only a part—and an increasingly small one at that. As dean of Stanford, I can have time to teach, to walk the halls and discuss ideas with students and colleagues, and to attend a goodly portion of the school’s many workshops, colloquia, and conferences. I can expect to meet and get to know a substantial share of the alumni. 

A second feature of the law school was equally important to me in defining its uniqueness. Legal education and scholarship, like education and scholarship generally, have been radically transformed in recent decades. Old disciplinary boundaries have dissolved, producing a crisis of confidence among legal scholars. The upshot has been a change in the academy that has led to charges, too often justified, that law schools have abandoned their primary mission and become overly scholastic institutions whose work is no longer relevant to law. 

But whatever its merits elsewhere, I do not believe this indictment applies to Stanford. Certainly its faculty do interdisciplinary work. Indeed, the work done here exemplifies the best of the new scholarship. But the Stanford faculty have retained a clear and strong commitment to the idea that what we do should be relevant to the working world of lawyers, judges, and policymakers. Stanford is a law school where theory meets practice, where new techniques and new disciplines have been introduced in order to make better lawyers. We are an interdisciplinary institution—and will become more so in the coming years. But interdisciplinary study at Stanford Law School is done in the service of legal analysis, not to replace or avoid it. 

None of this should be grounds for self-satisfaction or complacency. The world continues rapidly to change, and Stanford Law School must change with it. My task, or rather our task, will be to meet the challenges ahead without sacrificing the qualities that have made, and continue to make, Stanford special. I look forward to working with all of you to make this happen.