Stanford Law School lost one of its brightest stars when Leon Cain, a rising 3L, passed away last month. A pillar of the Stanford community, Leon was a leader and friend to many. With a radiant personality and a brilliant mind, he excelled in and out of the classroom and made a lasting impression on everyone he met.
Leon was born on February 13, 1991 in Berlin, Germany, to his beloved mother Henny and father Vincent, and grew up in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of Southern California in 2013 and worked in politics until starting law school in 2016.
Leon took on an active role within the Stanford community. A strong proponent of diversity in the legal field, he served on the board of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). Biola Macaulay, JD ’19, remarked on Leon’s dedication to BLSA: “He was always the first to volunteer whenever we needed something for an event – whether that meant picking up food, setting up, or hosting in his apartment. More than that though, you could tell that he really cared about making sure BLSA was a tight-knit community. He went out of his way to befriend and include the students in the year below us and was really passionate about mentoring people who were in the process of applying to law school at Stanford and elsewhere. Leon was one of the pillars of our community and BLSA will not be the same without him.”
An aspiring corporate lawyer, Leon was heavily involved with the Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance and was Co-Editor-in-Chief with Alyssa Dunn, JD ’19, last year. Dunn recalled, “From our first day leading the journal together, Leon’s magnetic personality and dedication to the role made even the busiest, most stressful times manageable. Serving as Co-Editor-in-Chief with one of my closest law school friends was a highlight of 2L year.”
As part of the Racism Lives Here Too movement, Leon was a powerful and persistent voice for change. He and other students of color worked tirelessly to raise awareness of and advocate solutions to the subtle and not-so-subtle ways racism permeates Stanford’s campus. He loved Stanford, but he also knew it could be better. Ola Abiose, JD ’20, remembered how Leon was a key figure early in the movement: “Leon was integral to strategy development, particularly around coordinating responses and support from affinity group leaders. I remember calling him after one meeting in particular, when there had been some debate about how affinity group leaders could best respond in their official capacities to the movement and the administration’s response. Leon mentioned that he dreamed of a moment like this where pressure could be applied from different angles. He said, ‘I know people might think I’m just a corporate shill but I’m secretly pretty progressive. I want to be able to support movements and those in the streets from behind the scenes.’”
We lost Leon right as he was on the cusp of living the life he had envisioned. He had just signed an offer to join Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a top New York law firm, and was planning to celebrate with friends and family in Europe before returning to Stanford. In a statement, Wachtell noted that Leon “was a very successful member of our summer class and we were looking forward to having him join the firm as a full-time associate next year. We mourn his passing.”
Leon’s professors remember him as a top student with an exceptional mind and a warm personality. “Leon had an effortless, understated brilliance,” Professor Michael Klausner noted, “It was always a pleasure to have a conversation with him.” “I lobbied Leon to take my classes because I loved having him as a student,” remarked Professor Colleen Honigsberg, who taught Leon twice. She added, “He was the best kind of student: intellectually curious and articulate, yet entirely unpretentious. With his natural charisma and obvious enthusiasm for learning, he brightened the room and made even dry topics fun for everyone. I’ll never forget the impact he had on my classes and the other students.”
Professor Jeanne Merino mourned Leon’s death as “a tremendous loss not only to his close friends, family, and those here at SLS who will miss his comforting smile,” but also “to those whose lives he never had the chance to change.” Noting Leon’s commitment “to help right the wrongs created by centuries of excluding African-American voices from places of power,” Merino said, “I am devastated that the world has lost a committed advocate.”
For many on campus, Leon will be most remembered as a dear friend. C.J. Biggs, JD ’19, said, “Leon never failed to be out and about, engaging the community with that warm, endearing grin on his face, surrounded by people who loved him, and whom he deeply loved. Leon embodied everything that being a law student at Stanford means. He truly was the best of us. I am proud to be counted among his friends and I will uphold his memory and his passionate outlook on life always.”
Nihal Shrinath, JD/MS ’19, recalled, “Leon was always the one to call an Uber or Lyft or supply food or drinks for a party. To this day, I’ve never met anyone that effortlessly generous. It was like selflessness was embedded in his character.”
One of Leon’s roommates, Jamie Davidson, JD ’19, said, “Leon saw the best in everyone. If you were down, he always found a way to pick you up. He had a boundless, infectious energy that lifted the spirits of everyone around him. Leon was deeply loyal and tremendously kind.”
Another roommate, Devon Gray, JD ’19, remarked, “Leon typified everything that made Stanford Law great – brilliant in the classroom, a champion for just causes, and a welcoming presence for all. These qualities made Leon larger than life at Stanford. As his roommate throughout law school, I knew him beyond his well-documented gregariousness and professional excellence. In our seemingly nightly 2AM conversations, we’d discuss our hopes, fears, and aspirations to change the world. It was during these times I came to admire Leon the most. He was everything I aspired to be and I’m forever grateful for the time we had.”
A scholarship fund has been created to honor Leon’s life. At this time, it has already raised over $54,000. A memorial service for Leon was held at Stanford Law School on October 14, 2018 (photos below).