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Written by Terry Nagel, SLS Communications Office, 8-6-15, 


Stanford Law School students submitted a report this summer to top White House officials that critiques the way they are implementing climate change policies across the federal government.

Their report analyzes management tools that the White House has used to coordinate efforts to reduce the carbon footprint throughout the federal government, respond to climate impacts on federally managed land and water resources, site more renewable energy facilities on public lands, and share climate impact data with federal agencies and state, tribal and local partners.

“Future presidents must find effective ways for federal and state agencies to work together to tackle climate change issues,” explained David J. Hayes, the Distinguished Visiting Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School (SLS) who led the practicum that produced the report.

Policy lab blog 8-8-15 Shishmaref-home-lost-to-erosion-300x184

White House access

Top officials in the White House, including Brian Deese, counselor to the President; Beth Cobert, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB); and Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, welcomed the Stanford analysis and cooperated with the effort.

Beth Cobert, an organizational expert who spent most of her career at McKenzie & Company before her appointment as OMB deputy director, offered her perspectives and participated in an extended meeting with the students in late May. President Obama recently appointed her to take over the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The report, called “A 21st Century Governance Challenge: Finding Effective Mechanisms to Address Climate Change Across the Federal Government,” resulted from work the students did in the Energy and Environmental Governance practicumoffered this spring as part of the law school’s Law and Policy Lab.  In SLS practicums, students work in small teams, under faculty supervision, with real clients to develop policy solutions to pressing social and environmental issues.

The students in this practicum interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento to identify the organizational approaches that tended to produce better results when implementing climate change-related initiatives in multiple federal agencies.

Hayes explained, “This report analyzes prior and ongoing interagency climate change initiatives and provides a roadmap for improving how multiple federal agencies can more effectively work together, and with the White House, as they grapple with climate change imperatives that require a high level of coordination, cutting across agency lines.”

Mixed results

The students found that success in implementing climate change policies across multiple agencies in enhanced with White House involvement and accountability, clearly defined goals and metrics, budget support and performance incentives.

“It’s incredibly important that the Executive Branch lead the way on climate change issues,” said one of the students, Caitlin Troyer, JD ’17. “This means not only being outspoken about the potential impacts of climate change, but also leading by example and putting the full weight of the Executive Branch behind climate change abatement efforts.”

Claudia Antonacci, JD ’17, noted that managers of interagency initiatives on climate change should “clearly delineate when they start and end new initiatives, so they don’t have legacy issues hanging around.” In researching infrastructure impacts on climate change, she found 15 different documents relating to one initiative and struggled to understand the current status of each of them.

“Federal databases of climate information are outdated and are not designed for users to easily access the information they need,” agreed Neil Raina, JD ’16.

The other SLS students who worked on the report were Adam Bowling, JD ’16; Eeshan Chaturvedi, LLM ‘15; Siddharth Fresa, LLM ‘15; Heather Kryczka, JD ’16; and Michelle Wu, JD ’17.

The report examined different approaches by the federal government and, in one case, the State of California, for coordinating climate change initiatives. The students concluded that approaches have been largely successful in reducing the government’s carbon footprint and in coordinating the siting of major renewable energy projects on public lands. They also found that the State of California has effectively coordinated greenhouse gas reductions across a number of affected agencies.

Efforts to coordinate federal interagency support for addressing climate impacts, responding to climate impacts on natural resources managed by the federal government, and using geographic mapping tools to make climate change impact data widely available have commanded less high-level attention and have been less successful to date.

This article written by Terry Nagel, SLS Communications Office, tnagel@stanford.edu.



While detailed information about the race and gender of law enforcement officers in the United States has been available for decades and has prompted many police departments to diversify their workforces, there has been virtually no publicly available information to answer the question of how representative prosecutors are of the communities they serve. Until now.

Stanford Law School students worked with the Stanford Criminal Justice Center to make the demographics of California prosecutors available for the first time. Data that the team gathered from prosecutors’ offices in 52 of California’s 58 counties, representing nearly 98 percent of the state’s population, found that whites, who comprise slightly more than 38 percent of the state’s population, hold nearly 70 percent of prosecutors’ jobs.

The last time 70 percent of Californians were white was four decades ago. California prosecutors, the report concludes, are “Stuck in the ‘70s.”

The team found that Latinos are the most poorly represented among prosecutors. Latinos represent almost 39 percent of the population in California but make up only 9 percent of California prosecutors.

In addition, the data collected showed that women are underrepresented in the supervisory ranks of prosecutors in California. Forty-eight percent of California prosecutors are female, but 41 percent of prosecutors with supervisory titles are women.

Importance of diversity

Those numbers are significant, the report says, because research has shown that criminal justice agencies are fairer, inspire more public confidence and are more likely to be seen as legitimate when they reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. In addition, the report notes that “the presence of minority attorneys in a prosecutor’s office may also make the office more likely to adopt policies and champion initiatives that are responsive to the concerns of minority residents.”

The students working on the study were enrolled in a practicum offered by the school’s Law and Policy Lab, where small teams work under close faculty supervision to help solve complex policy problems on a wide range of issues. The practicum was led by Debbie Mukamal, executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) and Professor and SCJC Faculty Co-Director David Alan Sklansky.

Latinos among California prosecutors

“The most surprising thing was that Latinos are extremely underrepresented among prosecutors. I expected them to be underrepresented, but not by such a large percentage,” said one of the students, Isaiah Deporto, JD ’17.

Another student, Katherine Bies, JD ’17, described the difficulty in getting the data. “We tried collecting the data in bulk by sending out Freedom of Information Act requests to the federal Department of Justice and California DOJ and local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offices, but not one of these organizations had records of the data. Instead, we had to call each office individually and, even then, there was no routine manner of collecting the data,” she noted.

The other students in the practicum were Darryl Long and Megan McKoy, both JD ’17.

Insufficient ‘pipeline’

In addition to highlighting disparities between the demographic breakdown of prosecutors in California and the residents they serve, the study notes a problem in the pool from which prosecutors are hired: lawyers. In California 79 percent of lawyers are white, whereas 6 percent are Latino. It cites the “pipeline” for lawyers – law schools – as another concern. That problem is not confined to California. While blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans comprise a third of the national population, they comprise only a fifth of law school graduates across the country and just over a tenth of attorneys practicing law.

The report suggests that future studies might address the effects and causation of the underrepresentation of Latinos among California prosecutors, as well as the underrepresentation of women in supervisory roles. They might also explore issues raised by prosecutor demographics on a national basis. “We need to better understand why the legal profession as a whole and, in particular, prosecutors’ offices, struggle to hire and retain minority and female lawyers,” said Bies.

Some of that work will begin soon at Stanford Law School. Mukamal and Sklansky are currently recruiting students for a follow-up policy practicum to be offered this fall.

Read an op-ed about the new study by Debbie Mukamal and David Sklansky in theLos Angeles Times.

Related story: SLS Professor Deborah Rhode comments on the problem of law school diversity in The Washington Post.

Stanford Law School practicums offer real-world lessons

Students in the Law and Policy Lab gain tools they’ll need

for shaping policy at local, state, federal and international levels.  

Written BY CLIFTON B. PARKER, Stanford News Service

Professor Mark Kelman meets with Stanford Law School students
Lauren Harding and Marta Belcher from the “Improving Bone Marrow Donation” practicum. (Linda Cicero)


Even before they graduate, Stanford law students are taking their educations to the streets on high-profile policy issues – and making a difference.

In the Stanford Law and Policy Lab, Stanford Law School students work with clients under the guidance of faculty experts to develop policy solutions. Some describe it as a “policy incubator” for law students, the kind that gives them the tools to become leaders in their fields once they graduate.

The idea is not only to train students to become excellent lawyers in the Stanford tradition, but also to teach them how to shape law and policy at local, state, federal and international levels.

Bone marrow progress

The Improving Bone Marrow Donation practicum is an example of one that has already yielded results. Its origins date from October 2013 when Nalini Ambady, a Stanford professor of social psychology, tragically died because she could not get a bone marrow transplant in time.

Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford associate professor of psychology, was a friend and colleague of Ambady, working with a Stanford center called “SPARQ” – or Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions – to help Ambady find a bone marrow match.

Because Eberhardt was uncertain of the range of laws, especially regarding privacy, that would govern bone marrow recruitment, she suggested connecting a law school practicum with SPARQ.

As Alana Conner, SPARQ’s executive director, put it, thousands of people die because they are not matched up with a stem cell donation.

“Some of the inefficiencies in the donation process arise because of a lack of understanding in what is and is not legally permissible in recruiting and retaining donors. This practicum helped shed light in an often misunderstood space,” she noted.

During the past year, three law students enrolled in the practicum, which was co-led by Stanford Law Professors Mark Kelman and Larry Marshall. They worked with two psychology grad students on campus.

Kelman explained that people do not initially volunteer for bone marrow donations at the time they fill out a form; they volunteer only to be “typed” and registered in the bone marrow registry. Later on, they would have to agree to donate after going through a number of other steps if they were matched to a needy patient who had no other donor sources. That’s what a registry does.

Kelman said the most concrete outcome so far has been the creation of a new form for people who volunteer for bone marrow donations, to be filled out when they first register, so that they might be matched quickly in the future with patients in need.

“We believe that fairly subtle shifts in the wording of the form will increase the degree to which people who initially agree to be typed will stay committed to donating, and will ultimately donate if matched,” Kelman said in an interview.

He added that he and the students are conducting a double-blind experiment in which some volunteers get the “old form” and some the revised form.

For Kelman, the biggest challenge was making sure they found a client interested in improving the system for recruiting and retaining potential donors, and that was not an easy task.

“From the vantage point of the law school participants, we were particularly interested that some of the resistance to change came from a misapprehension of legal regulatory limitations,” he added.

Marta Belcher, a law student, said the bone marrow policy lab gave her a chance to work on a national policy issue she felt passionate about.

“I felt personally connected to the cause,” she said, adding that outside of law school, she runs a nonprofit that organizes programs for teens with life-threatening illnesses. While many of the teens she’s worked with have received life-saving transplants, some have died while they were still waiting to find a match.

She said the policy lab helped Stanford social psychologists develop a legally and ethically sound way for the client – an international bone marrow registry – to increase the number of registrants who ultimately donate.

“Our deliverables included a legal opinion memo for the client regarding the proposed social psychological intervention, and a public memo aimed at other bone marrow donation centers outlining the legal regimes that govern bone marrow donation,” Belcher said.

Interdisciplinary nature

Now in its second year, the policy lab had 137 students enrolled in 22 practicums taught by 57 faculty members during 2013-14. This year 159 students enrolled in 22 practicums led by 49 faculty.

The practicums focus on a wide range of issues, including international security, copyright law, patent trolls, wildlife trafficking, medicine and health, energy and the environment, social and urban policy, utilities regulation, crime and policing, and net neutrality. According to Stanford Law School, no other law school in the United States offers students this type of policy experience on this scale. 

“Many of our graduates will be leaders in policy arenas, and all of our graduates will need to solve problems and work on teams,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, dean of Stanford Law School. “What better place than Stanford, with its focus on interdisciplinary study and solving real-world problems, to practice these important skills?”

In keeping with Stanford’s interdisciplinary nature, about half of the practicums include students from other disciplines than law on campus.

Faculty and students work in small practicum teams – the average student-faculty ratio is 3:1 – so they can customize their policy analysis to the specific needs of each client and issue.

As such, it represents an opportunity for students to engage directly with clients and produce tangible results. Clients include the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Copyright Office and Register of Copyrights, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Wildlife trafficking

In another Stanford Law and Policy Lab practicum, students produced recommendations that helped the Obama administration develop an effective implementation plan for addressing the U.S. role in combatting the wildlife trafficking crisis. (Read more about it in this 2014 Stanford Report story.)

Led by David J. Hayes, a visiting distinguished lecturer at the Stanford Law School, the wildlife trafficking practicum focused on how the U.S. government could approach the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants and rhinos in Africa, and the illegal sales of ivory and rhino horn in the United States and other nations which are fueling the killings.

Hayes said, “The U.S. government adopted many of the specific recommendations made by the students’ 69-page submission in the official wildlife trafficking implementation plan that the White House released on Feb. 11 of this year.”

Law student Laura Sullivan said the experience gave students a bridge between the academic and policymaking worlds.

“I learned how to think like a policymaker,” she said, “how to frame and present the issues in a way that will maximize utility, and how to tailor my writing for the intended audience.”

For more Stanford experts on law and other topics, visit Stanford Experts.


Mobilizing Early-Stage Prevention of Mass Atrocities: A Syrian Conflict Simulation

Students Negotiate U.S. Policy Aimed At Preventing Further Atrocities in Syria

Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights

It is February 2015, and the conflict in Syria is at a violent stalemate, with civilians comprising approximately a third of the over 200,000 casualties to date. Half of Syria’s civilian population is living in refugee camps around the region or is internally displaced.  Many of the latter are trapped in pockets of contested territory where they face starvation and other damaging consequences of combat. The third U.N. Special Envoy for Syria has determined that a political solution in Syria is unlikely, as prior efforts to mediate between warring parties have been fruitless. Although the U.S. Government has engaged in limited air strikes against ISIL targets in the region, there are few prospects for more extensive military engagement.

President Obama has directed his National Security Staff to reassess the situation and provide options to prevent further atrocities in Syria. He intends to announce a new U.S. policy in this regard during a major speech in the next two weeks.  Individuals from across the inter-agency have convened a subordinate Interagency Policy Committee (sub-IPC) to assist in the policy formulation process, beginning with the review of preliminary ideas generated by lower-level working groups.

This was the scenario presented to a group of Stanford students by Col. (Ret.) Dwight Raymond of the Peacekeeping and Stabilization Operations Institute of the Army War College at a day-long tabletop exercise (TTX) convened winter quarter at Stanford Law School.  The simulation was part of a new Stanford Law School Policy Lab on “Legal & Policy Tools for Preventing Atrocities,” which is led by Beth Van Schaack, the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of International Law, and was co-sponsored by the Handa Center for Human Rights & International Justice at Stanford. Participants, hailing from a range of Stanford Departments and Programs, were assigned Deputy Assistant Secretary-level roles within the Executive Branch representing offices and bureaus within the Agency for International Development; the Departments of State, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, and Defense; and the White House itself. Each participant received a short dossier setting forth key agency equities that were to be preserved and promoted during the exercise as well as some insights into their character’s background and personal views.

National Security Strategy, 2015“The mass killing of civilians is an affront to our common humanity and a threat to our common security. It destabilizes countries and regions, pushes refugees across borders, and creates grievances that extremists exploit. We have a strong interest in leading an international response to genocide and mass atrocities when they arise, recognizing options are more extensive and less costly when we act preventively before situations reach crisis proportions. We know the risk of mass atrocities escalates when citizens are denied basic rights and freedoms, are unable to hold accountable the institutions of government, or face unrelenting poverty and conflict. We affirm our support for the international consensus that governments have the responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocities and that this responsibility passes to the broader international community when those governments manifestly fail to protect their populations. We will work with the international community to prevent and call to account those responsible for the worst human rights abuses, including through support to the International Criminal Court, consistent with U.S. law and our commitment to protecting our personnel. Moreover, we will continue to mobilize allies and partners to strengthen our collective efforts to prevent and respond to mass atrocities using all our instruments of national power.”

The task at hand was to prepare the building blocks for a major policy speech by President Obama (although this exercise did not knowingly reflect any actual U.S. policy planning).  Interestingly, the TTX took place just as the President himself was giving a major speech on cybersecurity across campus.

Participants prepared for the simulation by reviewing the Mass Atrocity and Prevention Handbook (MAPRO), co-authored by Col. Raymond, which discusses the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic (DIME) tools at policy-makers’ disposal.  The DIME rubric emphasizes that there is a whole spectrum of potential actions available to policymakers between doing nothing and putting full battalions on the ground. Participants were also guided by several pre-existing frameworks, the most recent of which is contained in the President’s 2015 National Security Strategy identifying mass atrocities as “an affront to our common humanity and a threat to our common security.” This Strategy also reaffirmed the Responsibility to Protect, a major United-Nations initiative that places the primary responsibility upon the state to protect civilians within its midst, but obliges the international community to step in when a state is unable, or unwilling, to do so.  Together, these new priorities inform the classic Weinberger Doctrine—which asserts, in essence, that the United States should not commit combat forces unless vital national interests of the United States or its allies are at stake and then only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.

Undergraduate Nicolle Richards ’16, who interned with the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office with Stanford-in Government this year, discusses U.S. refugee policy.

Undergraduate Nicolle Richards ’16, who interned with the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office with Stanford-in Government this year, discusses U.S. refugee policy.

During the exercise, State Department representatives emphasized that the United States should look for willing partners within the region and the United Nations to ensure legitimacy of action and to share costs. At the same time, they noted that multilateral collaboration could complicate ongoing negotiations with Russian (over Ukraine) and Iran (over its nuclear program). Participants operated under the foundational assumption that the United States would be able to secure significant contributions from the European, Gulf, and other states, but should not expect any endorsement from the U.N. Security Council for robust coercive action because of Russia’s presumed veto.  Participants also noted that the military acumen of the Kurdish Peshmerga will put stress on the United States’ “One Iraq” policy.  As the United States increases its engagement with the Kurds, it must remain cognizant of how this will be perceived by other regional partners, such as Turkey, who are wary of bolstering claims for greater Kurdish autonomy.Participants began by identifying the various U.S. interests in Syria that exist alongside, and sometimes compete with, the atrocities prevention imperative.  These include counter-terrorism and the containment of weapons of mass destruction, the provision of timely and effective humanitarian aid to save lives and ease suffering, and the protection of U.S. persons and property, particularly since the kidnapping and killing of journalist Jim Foley and aid worker Kayla Mueller.  In addition, participants noted that the conflict is situated within a larger geo-political context that implicates the United States’ bilateral relationships with a number of states as well as stability in the Middle East more generally.

Next, the agencies mapped the relevant actors in the conflict, including the architects, facilitators, and perpetrators of atrocities; victims (of the conflict itself and its attendant consequences); potential interveners (both constructive and destructive); and bystanders.  As they explored various options, agencies were reminded of the many policy risks: sheer ineffectiveness, unintended consequences, collateral damage, fomenting anti-American sentiment, quagmire/mission creep, human losses and financial costs, fissures within the international community, and politicization of efforts (in both the international and domestic spheres).  Brendan Ballou, SLS ’16, as Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor, reminded his colleagues to consider the impact of any policy choice on U.S. credibility, particularly after the Administration drew a red line at the use of chemical weapons, but then appeared to allow the Syrian regime to cross it.

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a master’s student in  International Policy Studies, and Megan Karsh, Executive Director of the Stanford Law School Rule of Law Program, discuss options for Syria. They are joined by Stanford Law students representing other U.S. diplomatic interests negotiating possible interventions.

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a master’s student in International Policy Studies, and Megan Karsh, Executive Director of the Stanford Law School Rule of Law Program, discuss options for Syria. They are joined by Stanford Law students representing other U.S. diplomatic interests negotiating possible interventions.

Although the simulation began as a collective discussion, agencies broke into small groups to devise concrete policy suggestions around three broad categories of tools: suasion, compellence, and intervention.  A fourth group was invited to think outside the proverbial box for cross-cutting options.  Participants then presented and defended their ideas before the full sub-IPC.  While several agencies called for more robust sanctions against Assad and his inner circle, Tres Thompson, SLS ’16 representing the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department, insisted that the sanctions programs were already at maximum capacity. The counter-terrorism specialists insisted that more could be done to delegitimize ISIL in order to stave off new recruits and emphasized that U.S. refugee policy cannot be divorced from its counter-terrorism efforts given that refugee camps offer prime recruitment opportunities.  It was suggested that Turkey should be provided technical assistance aimed at securing its borders, perhaps from the Department of Homeland Security, against the reverse flow of radicals. Swain Uber, SLS and IPS ’17, assigned the role of Deputy in the Office of Global Criminal Justice within the U.S. Department of State—my former position—emphasized that whatever the United States does on the diplomatic, military, or humanitarian front should not jeopardize the ability to continue to collect evidence of the commission of international crimes and eventually hold perpetrators accountable, either within a domestic judicial system or an international tribunal with jurisdiction over the events in question.

A major dilemma that emerged in the discussions concerned whether or not the United States should engage with President Assad to counter the ISIL threat. Participants were split. Some argued that the Syrian regime is beyond redemption and that appeasing Assad now would threaten the West’s relationship with moderate rebel groups, be inconsistent with persistent calls for accountability, and undermine President Obama’s demands that “Assad must go.”  Others insisted that the emergence of ISIL meant that the United States must identify willing partners of all stripes. They acknowledged that there is value to consistency in foreign policy, lest an administration open itself up to criticism that it is feckless, but insisted that consistency should not be valued over efficacy. Participants explored how the United States might work through back channels and Syrian allies, including Russia, to enlist Assad’s assistance in countering ISIL as a common foe. Participants questioned the role that Iran might play in this effort; again, opinions were divided. Some saw the situation as an opportunity to further normalize relations with Iran whereas others insisted that Iran would condition any cooperation on unacceptable concessions on the nuclear front or a relaxing of sanctions.

The TTX hit home a number of key lessons. First, available policy choices are inevitably embedded within a domestic and international legal framework, as ably outlined by the Department of Justice representative, Richard Freeman SLS ’16, playing a Special Advisor to the Attorney General.  Because the simulation brought together law students with students from the International Policy Studies Program and other substantive Departments, it offered law students the chance to gain a better understanding of how their policy clients operate and conceptualize foreign policy problems.  Government lawyers must be prepared for the fact that policymakers may decide to push the legal envelope or even breach legal rules.  The lawyers must ensure that their clients do so self-consciously, with a full awareness of the consequences—both short- and long-term—of doing so.

Second, the simulation exemplified the value, but also the challenges, of working through others—including regional bodies, allies, NGOs, and even former adversaries. Although multilateral engagement adds legitimacy to U.S. actions, it also requires careful consideration of the motives of potential partners, who may demand significant concessions for their participation, as well as the risks associated with information sharing and capacitating others. Devising a path forward in foreign policy often requires a search for interest convergence, both within the interagency and with former adversaries.  Indeed, a shared challenge can create fruitful openings in previously stalemated relationships.

Third, the TTX showed how easy it is to get trapped in short-term crisis response mode and neglect long-term planning for transitions and end-states. Although the United States has evinced a willingness to take a leading role in trying to manage this conflict, and will ultimately play a supportive role in maintaining stability in the region, it does not want a protracted occupation or an enduring commitment to reconstruct Syria. Invoking Libya, participants showed little appetite for regime change absent a viable opposition, but acknowledged that of the thousands of militants on the ground, very few are prepared to govern.

Finally, the National Security Staff Assistant Director of the Office of Communications—played by Megan Karsh, SLS ’09 and the current Executive Director of Stanford Law School’s Rule of Law Program—reminded negotiators that while they have an obligation to gauge the preferences of the U.S. public, they can also affirmatively shape public opinion through strategic messaging. She surmised that following recent attacks on U.S. citizens in the region, public opinion has shifted such that the U.S. populace would support stronger action in Syria.

When asked what he hoped participants would take away from the exercise, Col. Raymond emphasized that they should leave with a firm appreciation of the complexity of the conflict itself but also of the interagency policy-making process. Government actors suffer from acute tunnel vision and are beholden to four- to six-year election and budgetary cycles that hinder long-term planning. He also noted how difficult preventative work is; five years ago, none of the mass atrocity watch lists included Syria at high risk. Today, it is one of the globe’s most intractable foreign policy challenges.  It is difficult to mobilize early-stage preventative efforts when it is often impossible—in the absence of a true counter-factual—to know whether our efforts have been successful.  And yet, mass atrocities committed against civilian populations remain a fundamental threat to international peace and security that must be dealt with through sustainable institutional processes at the national and multilateral levels. With hands-on educational opportunities such as the TTX, Stanford students will be well-placed to take on these challenges.


Beth Van Schaack, ’91, is the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor at Stanford Law School. From 2012-3 she served as Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice in the U.S. State Department.

Making the Leaders of Tomorrow

Stanford Law School’s Law and Policy Lab gives students the tools to impact policy

policy lab eventbrite graphic

The air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, land we build on, streets we drive on, medicines we depend on, and the relationships we engage in are all, in some way, at the intersection of law and policy. At every turn, our lives depend on effective laws and policies that regulate our actions, guide our decisions, and guarantee our safety. Those laws and policies, in turn, depend on the wisdom and skills of the lawyers and policy makers who serve as decision makers. A new initiative at Stanford Law School – the Law and Policy Lab – unites faculty and students with real-world clients and stakeholders in a mission to investigate and solve challenging policy issues through rigorous empirical methods.

The Policy Lab reached its one-year anniversary this past fall with now 44 projects shaping law and policy in fields as diverse as bone marrow donations, social impact bonds for mental health, and wildlife trafficking. Led by faculty experts, in partnership with real world clients, these policy practicums tackle complex problems and are already helping to improve policy procedures and shape outcomes. Law students with policy interests enroll in practicums to gain unique practical experience that engages with issues where they can make a difference with measurable results. Students build on the traditional legal analysis skills that they have honed throughout their law school training, extending those skills with a new toolkit – that of empirical policy analysis.

As the legal employment market continues to contract, lawyers remain in demand in the policy sectors, but their traditional legal skills may not be adequate to the rigorous empirical research and data collection demanded by policy analysis.  Deeply steeped in logical analysis and advocacy, young attorneys find common cause with public interest non-profits, policy think tanks, and government agencies, but may need training in the skills required to analyze stakeholders, assess costs, benefits, and tradeoffs, develop regressions, and measure statistical data. They may bring to public interest organizations, government agencies, and the judicial system an acute eye for legal contexts, but not fully appreciate the policy tools that assess outcomes and incentivize public and private actors.

The Law and Policy Lab teaches Stanford law students a wide array of policy skills through experiential training and faculty mentoring, allowing students to serve as policy consulting teams with close access and oversight by clients. David Hayes (SLS ’78), former Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, for example, taught students last spring how to conduct systematic stakeholder interviews of the competing players in wildlife trafficking. Professor Mark Lemley (Stanford ’88) and Lecturer Shawn Miller have tasked their students with coding a database that tracks patent “trolls,” or false litigants who file spurious patent cases. Professor Beth Van Schaack (Stanford ’91) and guest lecturer Col. Dwight Raymond (Ret.) led a U.S. State Department simulation tabletop where students played the roles of key stakeholders called together in a diplomatic roundtable to intervene in halting atrocities in the Syrian civil war. Paul Brest, in his Social Impact Bond practicum, asked students to develop logic models that help county decision makers understand how to implement a new bond initiative designed to enhance Santa Clara County Hospital’s capacity to accommodate mental health patients. Students may not end wildlife trafficking or pass international resolutions halting torture, but they do leave these practicums with the strategic skills needed to develop viable interventions in specific policy areas.

In tandem with training young lawyers to extend their legal skills by “thinking like policy analysts,” the Law and Policy Lab practicums offer vibrant think tank environments to support real-world decision makers. Building on their outsider perspectives, student research teams help such large agencies as the Office of Management and Budget step back to see relationships between the competing rules and regulations that define the current energy and environmental landscape. By helping OMB resolve redundancies in its funding of various energy and environmental programs, for example, students are able to help the agency spread federal funding more effectively across sectors.

In other instances, the Law and Policy Lab helps to fill gaps in policy making that have resulted from the loss of funding streams at the state and local levels. Following state budget cuts that drastically reduced staffing at county courts, for example, students are working with the San Mateo County Family Court to develop an automated, click-through, intake database that will allow possible claimants to determine whether their claims are better suited to mediation than litigation. Like the county courts, local nonprofits also suffered significant financial losses in the 2010 economic downturn, with many smaller groups shuttering their advocacy efforts. Such groups as Save the Otter, for example, once flourished as gadfly protectors of California coastal regions, but, now, without funding, many are mere specters in environmental decision making. Professors Deborah Sivas (JSD ’87) and Michael Wara (’06) mobilized a team of students to step into that void to offer empirical insights on the effects of stalled coastal remediation policies along the California coast. Similarly, the Coastal Mitigation practicum, led by Professors Meg Caldwell (Stanford ‘85) and Janet Martinez, have assembled a team of students from law, engineering, and environmental science to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, District IX, and the Nature Conservancy, to investigate competing decision processes that may impede the protection and mitigation of mixed-use coastal areas.

Cary McClelland (SLS ’15), the student director of the Mediation Confidentiality practicum, describes the process of policy making as “a necessary complement to legal study. Anyone thinking of a future in law making – with an agency, an NGO, or within the judiciary – needs to understand basic policy analysis and learn to think like a decision maker. The Policy Lab helps us ask the kinds of skeptical questions that go into developing strong law and policy.” From broad vision bridging silos to discrete solutions between competing actors, the Law and Policy Lab is facilitating effective policy making across the sectors that guide and regulate our lives. Like their faculty mentors, its graduates are the decision makers committed to making tomorrow better than today.


Welcome to the Law and Policy blog. Our blog features the projects of our practicums, which are making an impact across policy sectors in the international, national, state, and local arenas. The practicums are led by faculty experts, staffed by talented graduate students from across the university, and driven by the specific needs of real-world clients. Clients represent a wide array of public interest groups and NGO’s, as well as government agencies and affiliates, ranging from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Projects typically engage the intersection of law and policy, though some are more oriented around legal issues and others more specific to a policy area. Whatever the topic, the goal of the Policy Lab is to teach students policy analysis skills that extend their legal advocacy and field-related training. By extending students’ modes of analysis, the practicums probe and help resolve immediate issues for clients and give our students the skills they will need to engage and solve the complexities of tomorrow’s public policy.

As the stories of our practicums unfold here, you’ll learn how Barbara van Schewick’s Net Neutrality practicum contributed to FCC thinking in its recent decision on Open Internet Rules (February 26, 2015), helping to ensure a “fast, fair and open Internet.” You will see the difference that David Hayes’s Wildlife Trafficking practicum made in advising the Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, which is currently enhancing protections for species beyond elephants and rhinos. If you have ever downloaded a photograph from the Internet without thinking about copyright, you’ll be interested in how Paul Goldstein’s Copyright practicum is working with the U.S. Copyright Office to develop an online tool for frictionless licensing of photographs. And on an international scale, you can follow the Beth van Schaack’s and Allen Weiner’s teams, which are moving policies to help prevent mass atrocities and manage regime change with lessons learned from the Syrian crisis. These are just five of the 44 practicums that are changing the way our students engage with law and policy. Tasked with making a positive difference, the Law and Policy Lab is shaping a new path in experiential learning that engages tangible results.

We hope you’ll join us on this journey in confronting and thinking through the public policy issues of our era.