“What Matters to Me and Why,” a Discussion with Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez

On October 2, 2019, Jenny Martinez, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School, took part in the popular “What Matters to Me and Why” series organized by the Stanford Office for Religious Life, in which members of the Stanford community are invited to reflect on matters of personal values, beliefs and motivations. 

Dean Jenny Martinez

Speaking in front of students and members of the larger Stanford community, Martinez participated in a casual Q&A with the Reverend Dr. Tiffany Steinwert, Dean for Religious Life. The conversation covered Martinez’ career path from college to Harvard Law School to a clerkship with Justice Stephen Breyer (BA ’59) to an assignment as an associate legal officer at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague and, eventually, to the legal academy and the deanship at Stanford Law School. 

“In retrospect, this seems like a natural path for me but when I was an undergrad…I was interested in a lot of different things and I really didn’t know that I would go to law school and, when I was in law school, I didn’t really think about becoming a law professor,” said Martinez. 

Serendipity and exposure played a major role in Martinez’ career moves and she talked about the influence different people had on her choices, including her mother, who was a civil rights lawyer and worked with the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington D.C. “Watching my mother’s orientation toward using the law to protect people’s rights and improve the lives of others, and seeing my mother’s circle of friends do the same, when I look back on my childhood, it is not that surprising that I became a lawyer focused on human rights.” In addition, the two judges for whom she worked were both law professors before they became judges, which also had a major influence on her career decisions.

Martinez also talked about falling in love with the law during law school. “There is a focus in law on the values that make society work, the way that people can live together and solve their disagreements through an ordered process based on reason and principle. That was hugely compelling for me.” 

Throughout the talk, Martinez emphasized the set of moral values that drove all of her career, and life decisions. She highlighted her belief in the purpose of the rule of law and lawyers: to protect human rights and, through the full spectrum of the law, maintain the stability of a society that allows people to live together peacefully so their lives can flourish.

Listen to SLS Dean Jenny Martinez’ full What Matters to Me and Why talk

Learn more about Stanford’s What Matters to Me and Why series