The Deborah Rhode Fellowship

Sanford Heisler Sharp is proud to announce the inaugural Deborah Rhode Fellowship (“the Fellowship”). The Fellowship will be a one-year position for a junior attorney who has demonstrated academic excellence and a passion for and commitment to civil rights throughout law school. The application process is listed below. The attorney selected for the Fellowship will be assigned work consistent with the work of other junior attorneys at the firm, will be evaluated on the same basis as other attorneys in a Fellowship role at the firm (viz., Litigation Fellows and the recipient of the Tom Henderson Civil Rights Fellowship), and may have an opportunity to become an Associate at the firm based on their performance and the firm’s needs. The Fellowship provides a new attorney a starting block for a career in public interest legal work and an opportunity to honor the legacy of Deborah Rhode.

Who Was Deborah Rhode?

Stanford Professor Deborah Rhode, a leading legal ethicist, passed away on January 8, 2021 at the age of 68. After graduating from Yale Law School, Professor Rhode clerked for Judge Murray Gurfein of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. 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.

Professor Rhode joined the Stanford Law School faculty in 1979 and was the second woman professor to receive tenure at the school. During her four-decade career at Stanford, Rhode taught the law school's first class on gender and the law, and she was also first to teach a course on leadership. She dedicated her career to the mentorship of women pursing legal careers and to supporting her female colleagues, all the while reorienting the field of legal ethics shaping it into the robust and demanding practice that it is today. Her work shifted the focus of legal ethics from the abstract to its origins, application, and impact. Professor Rhode continuously advocated for legal reform and access to justice, in particular championing pro bono efforts.

Rhode was the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, the former director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, and the former director of Stanford’s Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship. Other accolades include three awards from the American Bar Association—the Michael Franck award for contributions to the field of professional responsibility, the W. M. Keck Foundation Award for distinguished scholarship on legal ethics, and the Pro Bono Publico Award for her work on expanding public service opportunities in law schools—as well as the American Foundation’s Outstanding Scholar award, and the White House’s Champion of Change award for a lifetime’s work in increasing access to justice.

Rhode continues to be the nation’s most frequently cited scholar in legal ethics, having authored over 200 articles and 30 books, including the 1989 publication Justice and Gender. Her latest book, Ambition: For What?, has been published posthumously, and she had been working on a manuscript on animal welfare and the law at the time of her passing.

Application Procedure:

Applicants seeking consideration should email a one-page cover letter, a current resume, a law school transcript, three references, and two writing samples of not less than ten pages to careers@sanfordheisler.com. Please include “2023 Deborah Rhode Fellowship Application” in the subject line of the email.

Qualified applicants are encouraged to submit their application immediately as decisions are made on a rolling basis.

COVID 19:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanford Heisler Sharp has been a firm that has demonstrated flexibility and concern for the well-being of our employees and our communities. We were among the first law firms in the nation to publicly announce that we were moving to a remote work environment and to develop a COVID-19 vaccine policy for employees. The firm will continue to rely on the science to guide its decisions in 2022 and beyond. As of mid-September 2022, employees are required to work from their office two days per week, and any employee may work full-time from their office if they prefer. The firm will continue to regularly assess and adjust its COVID-19 policies and its hybrid work schedule as necessary.

Sanford Heisler Sharp employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (with the exception of Nashville where due to state law vaccines are not mandatory but strongly encouraged for Firm employees), including obtaining the COVID-19 boosters within the time frame recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you accept an offer from the firm and choose not to get vaccinated for religious, medical reasons, or other applicable legal requirements, you may seek a reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable Accommodations:

Sanford Heisler Sharp welcomes applications from individuals with disabilities. If you require reasonable accommodations during any part of the hiring process, please send your request to us by email at careers@sanfordheisler.com or by mail to the following address:

ATTN: Anita Youngkin, Senior Human Resources Director
Sanford Heisler Sharp
700 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20003

Some Reflections by Members of Sanford Heisler Sharp

David Sanford (’95 SLS), Sanford Heisler Sharp Chairman:

"Deborah Rhode was a great friend, and a devoted supporter of our civil rights law firm, our firm’s mission, and our firm’s clients.

I first became aware of Professor Rhode in 1990, when I read her book, “Justice and Gender.” I subsequently taught that work in my Williams College philosophy of law class. Shortly afterward, I attended SLS and spoke with Professor Rhode about her work and the influence it had on me and my students. Years later, Professor Rhode served as an expert in our gender discrimination class action against Novartis and in our gender discrimination case against Columbia University. I had the honor of preparing her for her depositions and defending each one. Rhode grasped every nuance, every detail, and testified truthfully and masterfully in each. Both Judge McMahon in our Novartis case and Judge Abrams in our Columbia case granted defendant’s motion to exclude Rhode from testifying at trial, holding that – essentially – she was too powerful, too good, and too smart and therefore likely to sway a jury to our side. We won both trials without Professor Rhode’s testimony and we learned a lot about how best to present our case as a result of her input and guidance.

I have given yearly lectures at the Stanford Law School for the past 15 years. Professor Rhode always invited me to give a talk to her students while I was at Stanford and to present at the Center on the Legal Profession. Following my talks, we typically had dinner at a neighborhood restaurant in Palo Alto with students or, as we did last year, had dinner at her house. We had lively debates about politics (though not that lively given that our politics always seemed to be in alignment). Whenever I had an ethical dilemma, I sought her counsel, which she always gave with serious attention and trenchant thought. And she was unfailingly thoughtful on a personal level, most recently sending my then 6-year-old daughter a book on courageous and talented women.

Professor Rhode was in the midst of completing a manuscript on animal rights, lending her prodigious talent and compassion to an area that would have immensely benefitted from her perspective. Despite a voluminous output of 30 books and about 200 articles, and despite teaching thousands of students over 40 years, she had much unfinished business in life—so many students yet to teach, inspire and guide; so many words yet to speak; so many thoughts yet to course their way through a uniquely gifted mind. If only we could have one more day, one more semester, one more year, one more lifetime with Deborah Rhode, we would all be further enriched, further enlivened, further enhanced in our collective quest for wisdom and goodness and charity and compassion.

I was closer with Professor Rhode than I was with anyone else on the Stanford faculty over the course of the past two decades. The loss I feel is deep and profound. Professor Rhode’s passing is a great loss for the legal profession and a great loss for the Stanford community. And her passing is a great loss for my daughter, who I hoped would meet Professor Rhode and be inspired by her as so many thousands of people have been over the years.

Thank you, Deborah, for all you have done for generations of law students, for the profession of law, and for legal ethics. Thank you for your kindness, your graciousness, your intelligence, your passion, your body of work, and your ethical compass. We will all sorely miss you."

Meredith Firetog (’14 SLS), Sanford Heisler Sharp Partner:

"Professor Rhode was my dearest mentor at SLS. I met her in 2011, at admitted students weekend, where she approached me to say, “I read your application and understand you are getting a masters in women’s studies. That’s what I do, my name is Deborah Rhode.” I did my best to hold back from screaming in excitement; I obviously knew who she was, and I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. She convinced me to go to Stanford, despite my conviction that New York is the only place worth living.

Professor Rhode took me under her wing, and she taught me a tremendous amount both in and outside of the classroom. She also helped me find direction in the first years of my career, and she was a fundamental driver and supporter of my decision to work at Sanford Heisler Sharp. I will miss her terribly, and will always be grateful for her mentorship, her brilliance, and the ways in which she made our profession both more equitable and ethical.

In addition to her prolific scholarship, Professor Rhode was also a talented photographer. She photographed her friends and family, and her home was filled with black and white pictures (along with a seemingly endless supply of Diet Coke). Every year, she donated to the Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation auction a photograph she took of Justice Thurgood Marshall when she was his clerk (alongside Merrick Garland). My own copy of this photograph is one of my most cherished possessions."

Melinda Koster (’12 SLS), Sanford Heisler Sharp Partner:

"Professor Rhode was a terrific mentor to me and countless others at Stanford Law School.

I had the opportunity to take two classes with Professor Rhode while at Stanford. In the first course, Legal Ethics, Professor Rhode’s passion for building the next generation of lawyers shone through each day. She led her class in deep, spirited discussions about integrity and ethics that still guide me in my own practice.

My second class with Professor Rhode--Gender, Law, and Public Policy--was a standout course for me and one of the highlights of my law school experience. This class exposed me to many of the foundational concepts and cases that I draw upon today in representing clients who have endured gender discrimination in the workplace. As with her Legal Ethics class, Professor Rhode was a skilled facilitator, pushing her students to think critically and fostering intellectual debate, even among relatively like-minded students.

Outside the classroom, Professor Rhode was extremely generous with her time. She opened her home to host Women of Stanford Law students, served as a faculty public interest mentor to a women’s rights public interest group, donated to the Stanford Public Interest Law Student Foundation, and guided students, myself included, as they navigated clerkship and career decisions.

A few years ago, my interactions with Professor Rhode evolved from the academic domain to the professional when she ended up serving as an expert in one of my gender discrimination and retaliation cases. Professor Rhode delved into the record and provided a powerful framework that contextualized discriminatory conduct. Beyond this, she evinced that same generous spirit, empathy, and kindness that she imparted to her students in the classroom. After I finished working with Professor Rhode on the case, she sent me an orchid as a gesture of her appreciation. The orchid, which sits in my kitchen, is a regular reminder of her graciousness. That quality, coupled with her brilliance, was what made her so special.

I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from and work with Professor Rhode, who was a true titan in her field. I will sorely miss her as a professor, mentor, and role model."

Jenifer Rajkumar (SLS ’08), a former Sanford Heisler Sharp attorney and the first South Asian American woman elected to the New York State Assembly:

“I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to know and learn from Deborah Rhode, a titan of the legal academy. At Stanford Law, I had the honor of being her student and sitting with her on the school’s Public Interest Committee. Her sharp and formidable presence was striking and made an impression on all she encountered. It was only matched by her generous heart and her wonderful sense of humor.

She was a great Professor who empowered her students. She supported me at every step as I pursued a career in the public interest. It meant so much to me to have her kind, steady support throughout the years. No matter where I moved in my career—whether DC or NYC, law firm, nonprofit or government—Professor Rhode was always there supporting my endeavors. After graduation, I moved to New York. I made sure to attend Professor Rhode’s talks when she came to town. She made sure to let everyone know that I was an excellent student.

When I was 22 and just beginning my legal studies, I took her class “Gender, Law, and Public Policy,” famous among generations of Stanford Law alums, and it made a lifelong impression. In the class we often broached sensitive topics, and then were dazzled by Professor Rhode’s brilliance as she exposed us to the legal aspects of gender equality issues in a way few in the world could. It was simply a privilege to have the opportunity to learn from her. Later, I took her “Legal Ethics” Class. I will never forget when I made a presentation on Pro Bono Lawyering where I showed a clip from the movie Legally Blonde. Professor Rhode laughed for a full 2 minutes. “There you have it,” she told the class, “Pro bono lawyering.”

I would have liked to share with Professor Rhode that I just made history as the first South Asian-American woman to be elected to a government office in New York State. Though I won’t get that opportunity, I will strive every day to emulate her intelligence, her generosity, and her dedication to making the world a better place through the law."