When I last wrote to you six months ago, it was amidst a mind-boggling transition into a new way of living and working as the entire world grappled with the effects of a global pandemic. I don’t think any of us thought in May that we would be contemplating the upcoming holiday season and winter from much the same vantage point. While we are all struggling with the impact of this historic situation that we see playing out across the planet, I do take heart in the progress that has been made in the past six months. Fascinating, incredible work has been done to understand and treat the virus (some of it by our brilliant and dedicated Stanford University faculty, staff, and students), and every day we get closer to controlling it and emerging from the constraints that have derailed all of our lives in so many ways this year.
While 2020 has been the most difficult period that the SLS community has endured in recent history, I am happy to report that we are thriving. The law school has always benefited from the fabulous weather we have in Northern California, and we are taking full advantage of that these days. Over the summer, the faculty and staff threw themselves into developing teaching formats, spaces, and technical support that would enable us to bring students back to campus this fall for in-person classes to the extent possible. In August, our new class of ILs arrived on campus for an extraordinary beginning to their legal careers, diving into casebooks and doctrine during discussion sessions in our new outdoor classrooms. In September, many of our upper-level students came back to live on campus—connecting in-person in office hours and breakout sessions set up outside, masked up and appropriately distanced, but also daily via Zoom with classmates in far-flung locations across the country and around the world. A year ago, nobody would have thought any of this reconfiguration possible, but our amazing faculty, staff, and students have shown us that with flexibility and optimism, we can be successful in furthering the SLS mission no matter the circumstances.
This issue’s cover story highlights the urgent research from two of our health law faculty members, Michelle Mello and David Studdert, and the publishing marathon they have been on since the start of the pandemic, pulling out all the stops to provide critical analysis of legal issues to policymakers who desperately need it. We also look at the important relationship between research universities like Stanford and local government. Over the years, we have nurtured such relationships—particularly with Santa Clara County, where the chief counsel is our alum James Williams, JD ’10. During the pandemic Dan Ho has launched several projects with the county, where he and his team at RegLab have been employing AI and data analysis to get their arms around the area’s COVID-19 spread and look for ways to effectively deploy the county’s limited resources in fighting the deadly virus. From David Freeman Engstrom’s piece on how the pandemic may cause a reconceptualization of our system of adjudication through the courts, to the development of the CoronAtlas by CodeX, to the recently launched nonprofit Lesson Check-In from 3L Arielle Andrews that brings tutoring to disadvantaged students—SLS faculty, students, and alumni are rising to the challenge of a generation to help address the many issues we face today during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, weeks after the conclusion of an enormously consequential presidential election, I think about how important our mission and the contributions of our extraordinary faculty and students to society are as we look to 2021. Lawyers and policymakers will be the ones to forge a way forward for all of us as the pandemic is resolved, and I am inspired knowing that SLS continues to produce lawyers to do this work and the research and scholarship to bolster the policymakers as our country charts the path forward from this challenging year.