From The Dean

Photo by Brian Smale

The very best lawyers are problem-solvers. True, they have specialized knowledge—they may know the securities laws, for instance—and specialized skills—they may know how to cross-examine an expert witness. But truly able lawyers can take a problem, see its distinct elements, and identify and analyze possible solutions.

Stanford Law’s new Law and Policy Lab, our cover feature in this issue, recognizes that lawyers solve problems outside of courtrooms and boardrooms. Our graduates have always been influential in policy—its formulation, its implementation, and its execution. And our current students increasingly see that their careers will involve policy. The Law and Policy Lab helps prepare our students for that future.

Practicums are at the heart of this initiative. In each practicum, a faculty member works with a small group of students to help solve a real-world problem, usually at the request of a client. The clients and their problems come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, the U.S. Copyright Office asks how the recording of copyrights can be more efficient. Paul Goldstein and a group of students work to answer the question. Or the California Law Review Commission asks how to modernize California law regarding law enforcement access to the records of cell phone providers, social media companies, and Internet service providers. Bob Weisberg and a group of students work to answer those questions.

Several features of these projects stand out. First, law students are developing new intellectual muscles and learning new skills. Making progress on the clients’ challenges requires more than mastery of legal doctrine and courtroom advocacy, and our students are being exposed to different ways of analyzing problems and identifying solutions. Several practicums are co-taught with faculty from other schools at Stanford and include graduate students from those other disciplines. Second, while a primary goal of this effort is to teach our students to be better problem-solvers, the work product of these practicums has already made a positive impact on the world—from work on sentencing reform for the governor in California to work on wildlife trafficking and election administration reform for presidential task forces.

A final feature stands out. We have gone from the drawing board to the first iteration of the program in the blink of an eye. You may know that academic institutions are reputed to move slowly, glacially even. Not at Stanford. Thanks to the leadership of Professors Paul Brest (profiled in this issue) and Deborah Hensler and the energy and enthusiasm of faculty and students and alumni, we have been able to offer more than 20 practicums in this first year. Also in keeping with Stanford’s traditions, we view this first year as a work-in-progress. We are busy evaluating and will make improvements as we go forward.

There is so much more in this issue that I hope you will enjoy. Every day at Stanford Law School is a day where our faculty and students do remarkable things. My hope is that the Stanford Lawyer captures some of that for you.