Stanford Law conference celebrates legal ethics titan Deborah Rhode

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Stanford University's campus is seen from atop Hoover Tower in Stanford, California, U.S. on May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/File Photo

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  • Stanford Law on Friday will honor professor Deborah Rhode, who died in January
  • Her final law review article describes how legal institutions and lawyers can help reduce attorneys' stress

(Reuters) - Stanford Law School on Friday will honor professor Deborah Rhode, a leading voice on legal ethics before her January death at age 68.

The school is hosting a conference dedicated to Rhode's work, which explored topics ranging from gender in the legal profession to ethics and access to justice. On Saturday, Stanford will hold a memorial service for Rhode. (Both events will be held on campus and also live-streamed.)

Rhode was the country's most highly cited scholar in the field of legal ethics. Among the speakers slated to share what they learned from her are former Stanford Law dean Larry Kramer, Columbia Law Dean Gillian Lester, and former Cisco Systems Inc chief legal officer Mark Chandler.

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Rhode's last message to the profession came in a posthumously published article in Fordham Law Review, whose May issue was dedicated to lawyer mental health issues. Lawyer well-being became a larger area of focus in the final years of her life, Rhode wrote. The article cites data showing that lawyers and law students experience elevated rates of substance abuse, anxiety and other mental health problems.

Lawyers face an overload of stress from constant deadlines, expectations of 24/7 availability, massive workloads and a culture of competition, Rhode wrote. The ability to better cope with those pressures requires both institutional and individual change, she concluded.

“Acknowledging our own and our profession’s vulnerabilities and resolving to address their causes are among the greatest contributions we can make to our collective wellbeing,” she wrote.

Legal institutions should resist excessive client demands, reduce reliance on the billable hours in attorney compensation, and set more realistic expectations for lawyer workloads, the article argues. Attorneys themselves should try to minimize multitasking, ask for help when swamped, and reframe their circumstances to focus on the positive. Helping others is another way for lawyers to improve their psychological health, Rhode wrote.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at