Skip to content Skip to navigation

McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society Mourns Death of Founding Director and Legal Ethics Titan Deborah Rhode

Deborah L. Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law.
Jan 11 2021

The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society mourns the passing of Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode. Professor Rhode, who died on Jan. 8, was a legal titan, an inspirational mentor, and a moral force at Stanford and beyond. Rhode joined the Stanford Law School faculty in 1979 as its third female professor, and since then, spent her career speaking hard truths about women, power, leadership, and the search for justice.

A legal ethics expert, Professor Rhode was instrumental in the creation of the Center for Ethics in Society, originally named the Center on Ethics. She served as the founding faculty director for five years, starting in 2003.

“Deborah Rhode was a fearless and prolific scholar whose work on access to justice, law and gender, and legal ethics remains pathbreaking and essential,” says faculty director Rob Reich. “She was an extraordinary mentor to fellow scholars and students across the university. And she was an amazing leader on campus, inside and outside the law school. It was Deborah’s vision that helped to create the McCoy Center for Ethics in Society, and she was a stalwart supporter of all of our work. This is just one small piece of her enormous legacy.”

As a Stanford Magazine article points out, Rhode’s leadership has helped define the ethics of power and parity for the past four decades. Former Ethics Center Faculty Director Debra Satz, now Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, says, “Rhode was a towering figure in the world of legal ethics and a force of nature at Stanford.”

“The most cited scholar in legal ethics, it would be hard to overstate her importance in either research or teaching on topics of ethics,” Satz says. “She tirelessly advanced the goals of making our world fairer and better for everyone, but especially for those who have been dealt a bad hand whether by systematic institutional design, culture, callousness, or fate.”

Rhode was the founding director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, the founding chair of the Section on Leadership of the Association of American Law Schools and the founding president of the International Association of Legal Ethics. She also served as a former president of the Association of American Law Schools, a former chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, a former director of Stanford’s Institute of Research on Women and Gender, a former director of Stanford’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship, and a former trustee of Yale University.

An author of 30 books, including The Beauty Bias, Women and Leadership, and Moral Leadership:The Theory and Practice of Power, Judgment, and Policy, Rhode leaves a profound legacy. The Center honors Professor Rhode's many contributions to the ethics field, and we will miss her leadership in the months and years to come.

Read Stanford Lawyer’s obituary: Remembering Deborah L. Rhode: Legal Ethics Pioneer, Stanford Scholar, Mentor to Many

Share your memories on Stanford Law's remembrance webpage.

"The Buzz" is the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society's media portal for ethics-related news on campus and beyond. We review events and speakers, and we feature initiatives that are of broad interest. A wide range of voices author the articles, including undergraduate students.