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Handing Down a Passion for the Law
According to Carl Robertson, ’58, JD ’64, what sets Stanford Law School (SLS) apart from most other top-tier law schools is its world-class faculty and its culture that underscores the importance of student mentoring. As he reflects on his time at SLS, he considers one of the highlights to be the summer when he worked as a research assistant for Keith Mann, a leading expert in labor law, and acting dean at the time.
“As a nationally esteemed arbitrator, Dean Mann was one of the best in his field—yet, he still took the time to guide and mentor his students. Although I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, working with him reinforced my passion and reignited my interest in labor law.”
Grandson of a Chicago lawyer, Robertson was raised on the family farm near Woodstock, Illinois, where Clarence Darrow defended labor leader Eugene Debs in the famous Pullman Strike trial of 1895. “My interest in labor law goes back to my grandfather’s stories about the Debs trial,” says Robertson, a history major at Stanford, who came back to the Farm for his law degree. “I couldn’t wait to go to law school and practice in a large city.”
In addition to working for Dean Mann, Robertson served as a member and officer of the Stanford Law Review. After law school, Robertson clerked on the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and then joined a small labor law firm in Los Angeles called Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker—now Paul Hastings.
Throughout his career, Robertson has been a generous and consistent donor to his alma mater, with a particular focus on supporting the law school faculty. In 1990, he established the Carl W. Robertson Faculty Research Fund at the law school to support faculty research and the publication of scholarly works at SLS. “I saw how important research was to a law school, and how it can help great legal minds gain the influence they need to bring about positive change in our society. Equally important, I wanted to replicate my experience working for Keith Mann by providing funds to enable faculty workers to hire students to perform important research and at the same time to promote faculty mentoring of law students.”
Eight deans and 23 years later, Stanford Law School continues to uphold its commitment to advancing knowledge through excellence in research, as well as teaching and mentoring students. The low student-to-faculty ratio of approximately 7.8 to 1 gives students unparalleled access to the faculty, who are among the world’s top scholars in a wide range of fields—from constitutional law to conflict resolution.
Ringing true across all schools and centers on Stanford’s campus is the ability to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. To continue the long-standing commitment to mentoring at SLS, the current dean, Elizabeth Magill, introduced a new type of course this year, called “Discussions in Ethical and Professional Values.” In these courses, professors host a small handful of students in their homes several times throughout the quarter to discuss challenging questions and situations that graduates may face at some point in their careers.
“The idea is to give students the opportunity to connect with faculty in an informal setting to foster mentoring relationships while engaging in meaningful discussions,” says Dean Magill. The faculty and students responded positively to the idea, and within two weeks of introducing this teaching model, 11 faculty submitted proposals to teach a course, and 190 students applied to fill 100 spaces in the first quarter.
“Over the years, I’ve watched Stanford become one of the greatest law schools in the country,” Robertson observes. “Some things have changed, but the core values and quality of education are as strong as ever. I’m happy to be able to contribute to the success of the school and am very thankful for the teaching and mentoring I received, which shaped who I am today.”