In Memoriam: Deborah Lynn Rhode, 1952-2021

Deborah Rhode, a professor at Stanford Law School for more than 40 years, a world-renowned scholar in the legal profession, and the nation’s most frequently cited legal ethics scholar, died on January 8 at her home in Stanford, California. She was 68 years old.

A native of Evanston, Illinois, Rhode was a member of the second co-ed class at Yale University. She became the first woman president of the Yale Varsity Debate Association and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. Rhode then attended Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal and director of the Moot Court Board. She graduated in 1977 and clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1979. At Stanford Law School, she was the second woman to be granted tenure.

In 2008, Professor Rhode founded the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession and launched the Roadmap to Justice Project to bring greater visibility and expertise to the issues surrounding access to justice. At Stanford University, Professor Rhode was the founder and former director of the  Center on Ethics, the founder and former director of the Stanford Program on Social Entrepreneurship, and the former director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Professor Rhode was a past president of the Association of American Law Schools, founding president of the International Association of Legal Ethics, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and vice chair of the board of Legal Momentum (formerly the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund).

Professor Rhode’s scholarly legacy includes 30 books and 200 articles, many focusing on access to justice. Among her books are The Trouble with Lawyers (Oxford University Press, 2015), The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law (Oxford University Press, 2010), and Moral Leadership: The Theory and Practice of Power, Judgment, and Policy (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

Amalia Kessler, the Lewis Talbot and Nadine Hearn Shelton Professor of International Legal Studies at Stanford, stated that Professor Rhode “was a titan of the legal profession — one of our nation’s preeminent voices on legal ethics, but also a champion for the interests of the underserved and a pioneer in the cause of gender equality. Deborah lived these commitments in ways both big and small that had an enormous impact on so very many. She was a gentle warrior, fighting fiercely and with grace, for all her deepest values through her scholarship, teaching, public service, and charitable donations. But so too, her values shone through in her many more mundane interactions with those of us lucky enough to cross her path on a daily basis.”

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