Stanford Law at 125: Still Pushing the Boundaries of Legal Education

Stanford Law at 125: Still Pushing the Boundaries of Legal Education 8

Savannah Schultz Fletcher, JD/MS ’18, a student in the Environmental Law Clinic, sat last year at the defense table in a state courtroom, part of a team facing off against one of the nation’s top attorneys. This was no moot court. The question in Chevron U.S.A. v. County of Monterey was whether local voters had the right to restrict oil and gas drilling within the county’s borders. Fletcher was defending a successful anti-drilling initiative, Measure Z, passed in 2016. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher star litigator Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. represented petroleum industry plaintiffs suing to reverse the ban.

“I was extremely nervous, but it was so empowering to rise to the occasion and really dive into the issues before the judge,” says Fletcher. “It was a wild ride.”

Like many students at Stanford Law, Fletcher, who is also studying environmental science, has fit a lot into her time at law school—taking a clinic, a policy practicum, organizing a pro bono trip to the Yurok tribe in Northern California, and serving as co-president of NALSA, the Native American Law Students Association.

“Stanford gives you the tools, supportive and knowledgeable faculty, and the resources to go on to be an effective advocate,” says Fletcher, who adds that she will clerk at the Alaska Supreme Court next year and, she hopes, build a career “serving Indian country and protecting the environment.”

The judge in Fletcher’s case ruled that voters could ban fracking but not all drilling. That gave Environmental Law Clinic students a chance to contest the drilling decision at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Stanford Law attracts students like Fletcher for a reason. Over the past 15 years, it has gone through a period of significant changes, enhancing the program to offer more opportunities for interdisciplinary study, experiential learning, policy research, public interest work, and international experience. Today, students can combine law with 21 formal joint degree programs, immerse themselves in legal practice representing real clients in the dramatically expanded clinical program, and help solve important policy challenges in the Law & Policy Lab. At the same time, the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Interest Law and the SLS Loan Repayment Assistance Program for graduates who pursue careers in public and government service reinforce Stanford Law’s strong commitment to public interest law, offering opportunities for all students to engage in service to others.

“At Stanford Law, we prepare students to think and reason like the best lawyers, operate across different fields of knowledge, exercise sound professional judgment, and grasp the economic and technological advances of our time,” says M. Elizabeth Magill, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “Our evolving educational program launches our graduates into careers where they can make a difference wherever they land.”

This year, as Stanford Law School marks 125 years since its founding, the community is reflecting on its accomplishments—and looking forward to what’s next.

Not content to rest on past successes, Magill has emphasized educational opportunities that expose students to the levers of policy-making, familiarize them with a globalized legal practice, and expose them to rapidly evolving technology that is transforming the delivery of legal services.

But she stresses that while we look forward, the school hasn’t forgotten the founding principles that are part of its story as set forth in 1893 under the guidance of the first law faculty, a duo of distinction consisting of former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and Professor Nathan Abbott, a noted legal scholar. Their principles stressed instruction in commercial law, education for students intending to enter public service, and training for those studying political and social science.

With a strong foundation in law and newer opportunities, today’s Stanford JDs are prepared to take on the challenges of a changing legal practice—and a more complex world.

The story of the launch of the SLS Law & Policy Lab goes back a bit farther than its founding in 2013—to an important U.S. Supreme Court decision. When in 2011 the Court ordered a steep reduction in California’s dysfunctional, overcrowded prison population, Joan Petersilia, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law and a world-renowned criminologist, offered help.



Stanford Law at 125: Still Pushing the Boundaries of Legal Education
Savannah Schultz Fletcher, JD/MS ’18, Jonathan Edward Berry-Smith, JD/MA ’18, and Sean Harold Rosenberg, JD/MBA ’18 (Photo by: Kevin Fiscus)

An experienced policy scholar who worked at the RAND Corporation for years, Petersilia introduced the idea of a policy-focused seminar, with students researching real policy issues with real clients.

“We told the state’s leaders, we’ll give you our best analysis for free, and what we find, we’ll publish. What happened next was the precursor to Stanford Law School’s policy lab,” she says. “There was skepticism about whether academics could change law and policy. But I found a generation of students waiting and anxious to be social justice advocates.”

Petersilia’s students interviewed 125 state, county, and municipal workers in law enforcement, public defender and prosecutor agencies, probation and parole departments, judges, and victim organizations, looking hard at the challenges of realignment—an innovative new legislative program introduced by Governor Jerry Brown to move many state prison inmates to county jails. The students turned what they had learned into policy proposals, with recommendations on how to best make a success of the state’s new realignment program.

“The students prepared five-minute elevator pitches to explain what they were proposing,” Petersilia says. “We invited Governor Brown, and he came to hear us out, along with his chief of staff and the first lady. Brown said he’d give us an hour and he stayed twice that long, grilling the students on the fine points. He later told me he was blown away by the quality of the analysis. I told him—knowing how frugal he is—it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.”

John Butler, JD ’14, was there. Now director of research and outreach at an East Coast criminal justice policy think tank called Fair and Just Prosecution, he was one of the presenters on prison downsizing.

“The experience certainly helped when I was applying for work. Having research-based policy reform on a resume is very marketable. It was a really clear path from Stanford to what I’m doing now,” Butler says.

Petersilia says the results of her students’ work were used by state and local criminal justice systems to amend—through new funding, legislation, and policy changes—the continuing effort to downsize state prison populations in favor of locally run programs.

That experiment led to the launch of the Stanford Law & Policy Lab in 2013 as the first program of its kind at any law school. Today, it offers 20-plus unique practicums each year, on topics that range from revising software registration requirements to accountability for the unintended consequences of impact investing to looking at the implications of so-called fake news and its impact on U.S. elections.

Paul Brest, a constitutional law scholar who came to Stanford Law School in 1969, served as dean from 1987 to 1999, and then as president of the Hewlett Foundation, rejoined the faculty in 2012 and was quickly enlisted to lead the effort to develop and launch the Law & Policy Lab. “The labs give students a chance to do policy analysis work for clients who are looking for impartiality, not advocacy,” says Brest, who directs the program still. “The structure allows faculty and students to get together to work on behalf of clients and to get some realworld experience with a strong application of academic knowledge and get students’ noses out of books and into the world.”

An emphasis on experiential learning runs through Stanford Law School’s program today. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Mills Legal Clinic, where students focus on the practical skills of lawyering, with client-focused representation at the forefront of the experience. And unique among peer schools, the Mills Clinic is a full-time commitment for students, operating much like a real law firm. Today, the program has 11 offerings including criminal defense, criminal prosecution, intellectual property, Supreme Court litigation, religious liberty, immigration law, education law, and more. In the clinics, students have firstchair responsibility for their clients’ cases and matters. They interview witnesses, negotiate with opposing counsel, draft pleadings and contracts, review corporate documents, and represent their clients in courts, agencies, and legislatures.

Zach Glubiak, JD ’18, says the Stanford Community Law Clinic helped make him an attorney. “CLC gave me the chance to pick up the phone and tell someone that I was his lawyer. I hadn’t given much thought to this statement before the clinic, but each time I introduced myself to one of my clients, I found it both powerful and humbling.” And today, about 70 percent of graduating students have taken at least one clinic.

“In the clinic, students perform as lawyers and have the real professional responsibilities of lawyers,” says Juliet Brodie, associate dean of clinical education and director of the Stanford Community Law Clinic. Brodie explains that students learn in the clinic that real legal problems involve indeterminate facts, human clients with conflicting and complex goals, and decision makers with their own perspectives and practices. So students take their unparalleled SLS classroom education and set it in motion in the real world. “Whether in one of the litigation clinics or in the transactional or international human rights setting, clinic students get the opportunity—in real matters with real consequences—to practice the most important lawyering skill there is: the exercise of sound judgment.”

Sean Harold Rosenberg, JD/MBA ’18, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2010, served in Afghanistan as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, leading both rifle and reconnaissance platoons, then came to Stanford for a joint degree from the law school and the Graduate School of Business. He sees parallels between West Point and Stanford.

“On the values level, both are service and mission driven. People don’t join the Army to get rich and live a glamorous life. Likewise, the legal profession at its core is there to aid people who need help. People here at Stanford are motivated to fix things that are wrong in the world,” he says.



For his part, Rosenberg saw the Afghan population’s deep need for a rule of law structure. An active member of the Stanford Law Veterans Organization, he also participated in the Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP)—part of Stanford Law’s Rule of Law Program. He has brought all of these experiences together for a project that he is involved in—working with a nonprofit launched by GSB graduates called Alter Global, which pairs entrepreneurs in under-developed markets, such as Kabul, to connect with Silicon Valley investors. “We’re looking for businesses with high-growth potential. I intend to work on the private-sector economies in places like that. The way we have been taught to think about the law at Stanford is really helpful. Laws are not big swinging axes, but systems to provide protection for people and give them peace of mind.”

This public service ethos is instilled in students throughout their time at Stanford Law.

“One of the most important developments at the school over the last several decades has been the evolution of public interest programming, curricular development, and career support,” says Deborah Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and director of the Center on the Legal Profession. “Through the Levin Center and the Center on the Legal Profession, all students are encouraged to see a contribution to the public interest as an important dimension of their professional life, through pro bono service as well as government or nonprofit sector employment.”

The Class of 2018 demonstrates this point well with more graduating students than ever earning the honor of Pro Bono Distinction (each logging 50 to 300 hours of service over three years). Topping that list is Sammy Schatz, JD ’18, with 799 hours of pro bono time.

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Former Dean Paul Brest with current Dean M. Elizabeth Magill (Photo by Jennifer Paschal)

A connecting thread for an increasing number of SLS students is the joint degree program. Though a longtime leader in interdisciplinary study (Stanford Law launched the first JD/MBA in 1966), alumni lobbied Larry Kramer at the start of his deanship to expand joint degree offerings. “It was a pervasive theme in conversations with alumni,” former dean Kramer recalled in 2006. “The graduates of professional schools and various relevant departments in the humanities and sciences—they are the people our graduates will be working with and for in a few years. And good lawyers need to understand their clients. So the idea became to utilize the rest of the university to create a more three-dimensional legal education.”

The expanded joint degree program, aided by Stanford Law’s move in 2009 to the quarter-based academic calendar used by the rest of Stanford, made the whole university available to law students who want to more easily pursue a joint degree—and for those who simply want to take a few classes across campus. And today, more students than ever are pursing joint degrees. The faculty too is increasingly interdisciplinary, with more than half holding PhDs.

“Stanford is the smallest big university I know, in the sense of feeling like a tight-knit intellectual community with low barriers to working across fields,” says Michelle M. Mello (BA ’93), professor of law at Stanford Law and professor of health research and policy at Stanford University School of Medicine, who is herself a JD/PhD. “I’ve been impressed by the eager and earnest curiosity that Stanford legal scholars have about what we can learn from other fields and their research methods. And it doesn’t hurt that I can get across campus to a medical school seminar in seven minutes flat.”

Along with the increase in PhD scholars, Stanford Law School has been at the forefront of big data technology that often goes hand-in-hand with empirical research. Among several important databases that have been created and launched by SLS faculty are the Securities Class Action Clearinghouse, which catalogs securities class actions; the Intellectual Property Litigation Clearinghouse, which now operates as a commercial venture called Lex Machina offering realtime data on IP litigation; the Stanford Securities Litigation Analytics project, which collects and tracks data on securities class action litigation and SEC enforcement actions; and the Global Class Actions Exchange, which provides country reports, statutes, and rules concerning collective litigation practices. And many faculty members come to Stanford Law because of the strong IT support and big data infrastructure that empirical research requires.

“There has been enormous growth in the empirical evaluation of law and policy over the last thirty years, and the emergence of entirely new realms of massive data collection and the development of statistical tools to analyze this trove ensures that this area of legal scholarship will be of increasing importance going forward,” says empirical scholar John J. Donohue III, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law. “Stanford has put together the strongest group of empirical researchers of any law school in the world and it is an exciting time to be working in this domain.”



Jonathan Edward Berry-Smith, JD/MA ’18, followed in his mother’s footsteps to Stanford Law. “She graduated in 1983, and she’s my role model,” he says. “She grew up in a poor family in Los Angeles, which makes her eventual ascent to Stanford Law School all the more amazing.” He explains that the campus has changed so much that there are parts of the law school that she doesn’t recognize. “Munger housing is a great improvement. She’s extremely jealous of my apartment.”

But perhaps more importantly, the curricular offerings available to Berry-Smith are vastly different too. For one thing, he was able to earn a joint degree in law and education in three years. And along with taking on a leadership position with the Black Law Students Association, participating in the Youth and Education Law Project clinic, and volunteering to deliver pro bono services to students and families in need—he is studying education too. “Stanford has exceeded my hopes by far. The small class sizes and collegial environment are very conducive to achieving my goals,” he says. “I want to help with the inequities in educational opportunities. And eventually I would like to start my own school.”

With so much hands-on experience and a joint degree under his belt, he feels ready to hit the ground running when he graduates—and dream big.

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(Images for the cover and feature were captured by various talented photographers including alumnae Alma Robinson, JD ’75.)