- In Memoriam of Deborah L. Rhode: Ethics Scholar & Champion for Women March 2, 2021
I am new to Griesing Law and as a way to introduce myself, I want to begin by honoring the memory of Professor Deborah L. Rhode (1952-2021) – a woman I greatly admire who in some ways had a career which in many ways parallel mine. Deborah Rhode entered college the same year I did; I went to Cornell, which had been co-educational for some time, while she enrolled in the second class at Yale University that accepted women. Deborah then went on to Yale Law School. We both graduated the same year from our respective law schools – she graduated from Yale and I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Deborah distinguished herself in law school, serving as editor of the Yale Law Journal and director of the Moot Court Board. Both of our first jobs were clerkships with federal court judges. I clerked for the Honorable Joseph L. McGlynn, Jr., a federal District Court judge in Philadelphia, while she clerked for the Honorable Murray Gurfien, a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Professor Rhode then went on to a second clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Following her Supreme Court clerkship, she decided to pursue a career in academia, becoming an associate professor and later a tenured professor at Stanford University School of Law, serving as the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law. At that time, Rhode was only the second woman who had secured a tenured faculty position at Stanford Law.
Deborah Rhode had a stellar academic career. Her two areas of concentration were gender discrimination and legal ethics. During her time at Stanford, she served as Director of the Center on the Legal Profession, the Center on Ethics, the Center for Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship and the Institute for Gender Research. She was a prolific writer, authoring over thirty books and hundreds of articles on legal ethics, gender discrimination and law and leadership. One of her articles on gender discrimination, “The ‘No problem’ Problem,” dissects the theories that lead to the denial of sex discrimination and disassociation from responsibility for redressing it. She wrote about the “increased aspirations to gender equality but not the collective commitment necessary to realize them.” Even though her article was published in 1991, these unfortunately remain issues with which we continue to struggle.
Rhode not only wrote on topics related to gender inequality for academic journals but also for mainstream publications. Her op-ed in the New York Times, entitled “Step, Wince, Step, Wince,” opined on the “painfully decorative footwear” that the fashion industry produces for women. As Rhode’s wrote, “During a recent conference of lawyers in London, I was reminded that it is not only supermodels who submit to footwear that maims. . . As male colleagues strode purposefully and painlessly ahead, these women [wearing ‘killer shoes’] fell behind, each step an ordeal, or remained trapped in crowded cab lines.” She called out the women’s shoe industry as “the last acceptable haven for misogynists” and went on to publish one of her most well-known books, “The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law” (2010) based on the op-ed.
In terms of professional responsibility, I learned about Rhode when I was evaluating textbooks to use for a seminar I was developing for Penn Law. Her textbook – Legal Ethics – containing over 1,000 pages of cases and commentary, was used in many professional responsibility courses. As a result of her exemplary work in this field, she received many awards, including the American Bar Association’s Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award, which recognizes a leading ethicist nationwide as well as the American Bar Foundation’s W. M. Keck Foundation Award for distinguished scholarship on legal ethics.
I did not know Professor Rhode except by reputation. Yet, our paths in the law were similar. I concentrate in the areas of interest to her – discrimination and ethics. Although my focus is in the private practice of law, I have served as an adjunct professor teaching seminars on professional responsibility. Deborah L. Rhode’s achievements are many, but her work on eliminating discrimination and raising the bar on legal ethics is incomplete. As I continue my practice here at Griesing Law, I hope I can help service clients and effectuate change in both areas to continue Deborah’s legacy.
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