Deborah Rhode

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Deborah Rhode
Rhode in 2011
Rhode in 2011
Born(1952-01-29)January 29, 1952
DiedJanuary 8, 2021(2021-01-08) (aged 68)
Academic background
Alma materYale Law School
Academic work
InstitutionsStanford Law School
Main interestsLegal ethics, gender and the law, leadership and lawyering
Notable worksAccess to Justice
In the Interests of Justice
Justice and Gender
Speaking of Sex
Pro Bono in Principle and in Practice
The Beauty Bias
The Difference "Difference" Makes
Notable ideas"The 'No-Problem' Problem"

Deborah Lynn Rhode (January 29, 1952 – January 8, 2021) was an American jurist. She was the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and the nation's most frequently cited scholar in legal ethics.[1][2][3] From her early days at Yale Law School, her work revolved around questions of injustice in the practice of law and the challenges of identifying and redressing it. Rhode founded and led several research centers at Stanford devoted to these issues, including its Center on the Legal Profession, Center on Ethics and Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship; she also led the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford. She coined the term "The 'No-Problem' Problem".

A prolific writer, she authored 30 books on subjects including legal ethics, gender and the law, and law and leadership; her major works include In the Interest of Justice, Justice and Gender, Speaking of Sex, Women and Leadership, Lawyers as Leaders, and The Beauty Bias. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was honored repeatedly by the American Bar Association as well as by the White House as a "Champion of Change".

Education and early career[edit]

Deborah Lynn Rhode was born on January 29, 1952,[4] in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in Wilmette and Kenilworth.[5][6] At New Trier High School during the late 1960s, she was a nationally ranked debater, competing against eventual Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.[5][7] She enrolled in Yale University in 1970 in the second class to admit women. Originally she wanted to work on poverty and had no interest in feminism, but an advisor gave her reading by Simone de Beauvoir that transformed Rhode's perception of the world.[8] The status of women as "unwanted minority" made an impression, for instance in university administrators who could not see any problem with describing the new student body as "a thousand male leaders and 250 women".[8] Rhode became a member of Phi Beta Kappa[4] and the Yale debate team, becoming its first female president (a role previously held by William F. Buckley Jr. and John Kerry).[7] She received her B.A., summa cum laude, in political science in 1974.[9]

She then enrolled at Yale Law School and worked in the law school's legal clinic which she said left her "angry all the time" at the injustice she witnessed.[6] She and others in the clinic wrote a manual for low-income clients who could not afford attorney's fees for uncontested divorces—drawing the ire of the local bar association—but she also decided the practice of law was not sustainable for her and found her calling instead in legal academia.[6] Her first academic work was a study of this issue; she published a paper in the Yale Law Journal, co-authored with Ralph Cavanagh (later her husband), finding that clients in uncontested divorces did equally well with advice from law students as from attorneys.[6] Rhode became editor of the Journal and director of the moot court board.[7] She received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1977.[9]

After law school, Rhode clerked for Judge Murray Gurfein of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1977–78 and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the 1978–79 term.[9][10] She became friends with Merrick Garland, who clerked for William J. Brennan Jr. in the same year.[8]

Academic career[edit]

Rhode giving a presentation in 2011
Rhode giving a presentation in 2011

Following her Supreme Court clerkship, in 1979 Rhode joined the faculty of Stanford Law School as an associate professor, becoming the third woman on the faculty, after Barbara Babcock and assistant professor Carol Rose (Rose left at the end of Rhode's first year).[9][11][8] She remained an associate professor through 1984,[10] then became the second woman to gain tenure at Stanford Law School, after Babcock.[7][12] At Stanford, the overwhelmingly male environment spurred Rhode to teach the law school's first class on gender and the law;[11] it came in response to episodes such as a retirement party of the law school's dean that she attended in 1981, at which a stripper had been hired.[6] She was also the first to teach a course on leadership for lawyers, lamenting that so many attorneys ended up in political positions of power without having any preparation for it as part of their legal education.[13][6]

Rhode served as a member of the Yale Corporation,[9] the governing body of Yale University from 1983 to 1989,[10] where she found that the gender issues she dealt with in the previous decade persisted. She tried to nominate Simone de Beauvoir, who had been so pivotal for Rhode, for an honorary degree from Yale, but the majority-male group resisted, questioning whether de Beauvoir had written her own work, saying it could have been written by "her husband".[8]

Rhode was a president of the Association of American Law Schools, the founding president of the International Association of Legal Ethics, and the chair of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession. She founded and led a number of research centers at Stanford, including the Center on Ethics where she was director from 2003 to 2007; Center on the Legal Profession; and Center on Ethics and Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship.[9] She was also the director of Stanford’s the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research.[9]

During the Clinton administration, Rhode served as senior investigative counsel to the minority members of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary and advised them on presidential impeachment issues.[9] More recently Rhode was the vice chair of the board of directors of Legal Momentum (formerly the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund) and was a columnist for The National Law Journal.[9]

Deborah Rhode (second from right) speaks at the 2011 White House Champions of Change round table hosted by Eric Holder

Rhode received the American Bar Association's Outstanding Scholar Award; the American Bar Association's Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award; the American Bar Foundation's W. M. Keck Foundation Award for distinguished scholarship on legal ethics; the American Bar Association's Pro Bono Publico Award; and the White House's 2011 Champion of Change Award for her work on access to justice.[9] Rhode's scholarship also focused on gender equality; she argued that the implicit demand for women to wear makeup at the workplace is a form of "gender subordination".[14] In 1991 article, she coined the term "The 'No-Problem' Problem" to describe the fundamental challenge, she argued, in advocating for women's rights was a problem of perception—the sense that a problem did not exist to need solving.[15]

Rhode was an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was also the most-cited legal scholar in legal ethics, as found in 2007 and 2015 studies,[3][16] and was the third most-cited female legal scholar overall.[17] A 2012 study identified Rhode as one of the 50 most relevant law professors in the United States.[18]


Rhode was the author of 30 books,[6] dealing with a range of subjects in the fields of gender and the law, legal ethics and other concerns of the legal profession.

Rhode’s 1989 book Justice and Gender: Sex Discrimination and the Law was devoted to the exhaustive documentation of discrimination over the span of 200 years; the text was 321 pages long with another 107 pages of footnotes.[19][20] It was a subject she returned to repeatedly in the course of her career, probing discrimination, the reasons it persisted and the possible paths to change. In her 1997 book, Speaking of Sex: The Denial of Gender Inequality, Rhode dealt with the issue that women's gains made advocating for the inequities that remained more difficult. She argued that recognition of the persisting gender gap was a necessary precondition for further progress. A New York Times reviewer found the book "scrupulously researched, balanced, sobering and sober", though worried that its "focus... on hard research rather than easy sensationalism" might lose the audience.[21] Among Rhode’s novel solutions to some elements of gender discrimination was a proposal that discrimination on the basis of appearance should be subject to constitutional scrutiny, laid out in her 2010 book The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law.[22][23]

Legal ethics and other aspects of the professional lives of lawyers figured significantly into her books as the object of critique and proposals for change. In 2000, Rhode published In the Interests of Justice: Reforming the Legal Profession. In a review for Legal Ethics, Barry Sullivan described Rhode's concern with the practice of law in the United States tackled in the book: that the legal profession "is insufficiently accountable to the public, that it falls far short of fulfilling its responsibilities to the society it ostensibly serves, that the best interests of its members are not well served by the current organisation and practices of the profession, that the membership of the profession is insufficiently diverse, and that the profession therefore requires radical reform."[24]

Rhode drew praise as a prose stylist. In a review of her 2013 book Lawyers as Leaders, Daniel Reynolds wrote, "While the findings of social science can often seem cold and lifeless on the page, Professor Rhode manages to present them vividly: in every paragraph, in nearly every sentence, she offers telling examples or memorable quotations coloring the portrait of the successful leader and the failed one, too. From P.G. Wodehouse to Justice Thurgood Marshall, Erasmus of Rotterdam to Richard Nixon: reading Rhode is a rat-a-tat-tat of the mot juste, the perfect anecdote to be savored and saved for future use."[25] The book grew out of her course on the subject.[8]

Personal life[edit]

In 1976,[12] Rhode married Ralph Cavanagh,[6] a senior attorney and co-director of Natural Resources Defense Council's energy program with whom she had attended college and law school.[26]

She was an amateur photographer, persuading Thurgood Marshall to sit for portraits.[12]

Rhode died at her home on January 8, 2021, three weeks before her 69th birthday.[6]

Selected publications[edit]


  • Rhode, Deborah L. (1989). Justice and Gender. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674042674. Preview.[27]
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (1997). Speaking of Sex. Harvard University Press. Preview.[28]
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (1998). Professional Responsibility: Ethics by the Pervasive Method (2nd ed.). Aspen. ISBN 9781567065428.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2000). In the Interests of Justice. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512188-9.[29]
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2004). Access to Justice. Oxford University Press.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2005). Pro Bono in Principle and in Practice: Public Service and the Profession. Stanford University Press.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2006). Moral Leadership: The Theory and Practice of Power, Judgment, and Policy. Jossey Bass. ISBN 9780787982829. Preview. Preview from Stanford.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2006). In Pursuit of Knowledge: Scholars, Status, and Academic Culture. Stanford University Press.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2010). Gender Law and Policy. Aspen Press. Details. Archived July 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2010). The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195372878. Preview from Stanford. Preview from Oxford University Press. Article: Dallas News.[30]
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2013). Lawyers as Leaders. Oxford University Press.
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2014). What Women Want: An Agenda for the Women's Movement. Oxford University Press.[31][32]
  • Rhode, Deborah L. (2015). The Trouble with Lawyers. Oxford University Press.[33]

Journal articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Professor Deborah Rhode Discusses Appearance Discrimination". Columbia Law School. Archived from the original on December 22, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  2. ^ Chelsey, Kate (February 12, 2014). "Rhode receives award for outstanding scholarship". Stanford University. Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Perlman, Andrew (January 5, 2015). "Top Cited Professional Responsibility/Legal Profession Scholars". Legal Ethics Forum. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Rhode, Deborah L. 1952–". Contemporary Authors. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Risen, Clay (January 18, 2021). "Deborah Rhode, Who Transformed the Field of Legal Ethics, Dies at 68". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on January 18, 2021. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Egelko, Bob (January 12, 2021). "Stanford Law Prof. Deborah Rhode, leading voice on legal ethics and women's rights, dies at 68". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d "Remembering Deborah L. Rhode: Legal Ethics Pioneer, Stanford Scholar, Mentor to Many". Stanford Law School. January 11, 2021. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Roemer, John. "The Moral Force of Deborah Rhode". Stanford Magazine. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Deborah L. Rhode – Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law". Stanford University. Archived from the original on May 10, 2013. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c "Deborah L. Rhode | C.V." Archived January 31, 2021, at the Wayback Machine Stanford Law School. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Miracle, Pam (March 30, 2015). "What Women Want". The Clayman Institute for Gender Research. Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Smith, Harrison. "Deborah Rhode, Stanford law professor and authority on legal ethics, dies at 68". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on January 13, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  13. ^ John Roemer (September 2017). "Moral Force". Stanford. Stanford Alumni Association: 54.
  14. ^ Shapiro, Bee (May 7, 2014). "Beauty Unmasked for All to See". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  15. ^ Fischer, Ilene (October 30, 2014). "The No-Problem Problem". HuffPost. Archived from the original on January 15, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  16. ^ Leiter, Brian (December 18, 2007). "Most Cited Law Professors by Specialty, 2000–2007". Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings. Archived from the original on February 21, 2019. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
  17. ^ Leiter, Brian. "Top 25 Law Faculties In Scholarly Impact, 2005–2009". Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings. Archived from the original on August 18, 2016. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
  18. ^ Phillips, James Cleith; Yoo, John (September 3, 2012). "The Cite Stuff: Inventing a Better Law Faculty Relevance Measure". UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2140944. SSRN 2140944. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ Edwards, Susan SM (September 1, 1989). "Book Review: Justice and Gender Sex Discrimination and the Law". Anglo-American Law Review. 18 (4): 351–354. doi:10.1177/147377958901800408. ISSN 0308-6569. S2CID 148997832. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  20. ^ Smith, Patricia (December 1, 1992). "Discrimination and disadvantage in feminist legal theory: A review of Ddeborah Rhode'sJustice and Gender". Law and Philosophy. 11 (4): 431–447. doi:10.1007/BF01003985. ISSN 1573-0522. S2CID 143385863. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  21. ^ Boone, Jacqueline (September 28, 1997). "SPEAKING OF SEX". New York Times. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  22. ^ Bazelon, Emily (May 21, 2010). "Just One Look". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on January 12, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  23. ^ Delagrave, Anne-Marie (January 2011). "Review of The Beauty Bias". Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. 23 (1): 359–364. doi:10.3138/cjwl.23.1.359. ISSN 0832-8781. S2CID 142823104.
  24. ^ Sullivan, Barry (2002). "Book Review of 'In the Interests of Justice: Reforming the Legal Profession,' by Deborah L. Rhode". Legal Ethics. Social Science Research Network. 5 (1–2): 179–194. doi:10.1080/1460728X.2002.11424165. S2CID 148911883. SSRN 1587077. Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  25. ^ Reynolds, Daniel (2014). "LAWYERS AS LEADERS". Law and Politics. American Political Science Association. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  26. ^ Kate Galbraith. A New Energy Regulator Takes the Helm Archived January 31, 2009, at the Wayback Machine The New York Times, January 26, 2009.
  27. ^ Shaw, Josephine (October 1990). "Review of Justice and Gender". International and Comparative Law Quarterly. 39 (4): 977–978. doi:10.1093/iclqaj/39.4.977. ISSN 0020-5893.
  28. ^ Pollitt, Katha (November 1997). "Feminism's Unfinished Business". The Atlantic. 280 (5): 160–164. ProQuest 223104498. Archived from the original on January 13, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  29. ^ "Katharine T. Bartlett Bibliography". Duke Law. Archived from the original on December 21, 2012. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
  30. ^ Stevenson, Kim (May 1, 2013). "Book review: The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law". European Journal of Women's Studies. 20 (2): 219–221. doi:10.1177/1350506812472628. ISSN 1350-5068. S2CID 147215950. Archived from the original on January 31, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  31. ^ "What Women Want". Kirkus Reviews. July 1, 2014. Archived from the original on December 27, 2019. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  32. ^ James, Grace (December 2015). "Review of What Women Want". International Journal of Law in Context. 11 (4): 496–498. doi:10.1017/S1744552315000233. ISSN 1744-5523. S2CID 147554011.
  33. ^ D'Silva, Magdalene (March 2016). "Review of The Trouble with Lawyers". Modern Law Review. 79 (2): 371–379. doi:10.1111/1468-2230.12187.

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