From the Dean: Public Service and the Legal Profession
Larry Kramer – Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean

As I sit here typing, the din of nearby construction continues unabated outside my window. At times, the noise makes working difficult, but I’m happy to endure it because the Neukom Building—our new academic building that will be named for William H. Neukom ’67, whose generosity (along with that of many others) made it possible—is so important to the law school’s future. It’s important, first, to address a critical space shortage for faculty and staff, and, second, to give our growing clinic much needed room to thrive. But the Neukom Building offers yet a third benefit inasmuch as the space it adds will enable us to repurpose our current facilities in ways that meaningfully enhance the research opportunities available to students and faculty. We have, as you know, revamped the curriculum in recent years to offer students a myriad of new opportunities to learn with and from faculty and students at Stanford’s other top-ranked schools and departments. We have, at the same time, created a unique clinical program that gives students a chance to use their knowledge in real contexts, to begin reflecting on their role as lawyers and exercise the kind of judgment that separates good lawyers from great ones. Student research, however, has remained relatively unaffected. And let’s be honest: Opportunities for law students to engage in serious research are limited, not just at Stanford but in law schools generally. Yet academic research is, or ought to be, an integral part of a good legal education, and not just for future academics. Done properly, scholarly research will deepen a student’s understanding of law and of the field in which he or she is engaged: but only if students find the support needed to dig in and fully explore and choose problems. Other disciplines use the dissertation-writing process to engage students in research that matters. For law students, in contrast, academic research has typically meant a seminar paper or student note, with feedback consisting of comments on a draft from an instructor. Making matters worse, law students are left to their own devices to find topics, though few have the requisite knowledge or experience to identify and develop really good projects.

This failure to create opportunities for serious student research is all the more striking in light of changes in faculty scholarship, which has become steadily more sophisticated. Faculty research today is often generated in and through research centers that bring together scholars from different disciplines as well as stakeholders from outside the university. These centers, in turn, have enabled legal scholars to address a wider array of audiences—to reach beyond lawyers and judges to speak to policymakers, government officials, and academics and thought leaders in other disciplines. Today’s legal scholarship is helping us understand and solve some of society’s most pressing problems. One sees this clearly, for example, in the turn to empirical legal research that is the subject of this issue’s cover story.

Stanford has been at the forefront of these developments—not just when it comes to empirical work (where no other school comes close to matching us) but more broadly. We now have 21 research centers and programs, addressing everything from corporate governance and the Internet to constitutional law, criminal justice, energy and the environment, law and the biosciences, the legal profession, international development and the rule of law, and more. Seventeen of these centers and programs were launched in the past decade alone, helping our faculty find the intellectual support and resources they need to produce cutting-edge scholarship.

It’s time to expand the role these centers play in the lives of our students by making them places where students can go to find research projects. Involving students in the centers’ activities offers a way for them to work on problems that are important and that better serve our educational goals, even as it increases what centers can do. Students will still be writing, but their work and what they learn will be enhanced by the chance to work in teams and with students and faculty from both law and other disciplines.

Enabling our research centers to harness the talents and energy of students requires some changes. We’ll need to provide more resources to support the students’ work. But, as important, we’ll need to provide space—not just more space, but space that can facilitate their work. At present, most of our centers do not have dedicated offices, a problem we could do nothing about in our current facilities. And that’s where the new building enters the picture. Once the Neukom Building is completed and the faculty and clinical program move there, we’ll be able to use the administrative building to enable this new model. At that point, we can improve our students’ research experience just as we have already improved their course and experiential learning opportunities.