In this episode, Rachel shares with us some takeaways from interesting legal topics she has researched and written about (gender and the law, supporting veterans, etc.), discusses her path to her role as Dean, and her unique approaches for understanding and teaching law students.

This episode is also available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.


Rachel is the Dean of Golden Gate University Law School. She was a Fulbright Scholar, a GGU Law Professor since 2004, and was Associate Dean of Academic Affairs since 2008. She has published 15 law review articles and four book chapters, exploring a variety of topics like gender bias in the law, improved support for veterans, and how to “think like a lawyer” among many others.

Show notes:

Unique approach to creating relevant / topical courses:

  • One example: After Hurricane Katrina, did a seminar in which students could pick research topics related to aftermath of a hurricane, help inform research of lawyers working on the gulf coast. Allowed students to see the real-world impact of their work as well as the impact and power of the law.
  • Being in a smaller school allows them to bring these types of courses to life pretty quickly. In many cases, even if a professor is creative with these sorts of ideas, there might be a bureaucratic hurdle to bringing it to life.

Studying Italian sexual assault law

  • Had lived in Italy at 12 years old. Fulbright scholarship allowed her to bring together her love for Italy as well as the law. Initially looked into Italian criminal procedure system, then their reform of rape law.
  • Countries across the world face similar legal issues but there are many different ways to approach them. The way we do it in the U.S. is not the only way. Italy was changing their sexual assault laws on the books, but it takes a long time to change thinking and awareness in any country. It has been interesting to think about sexual assault as it relates to college campuses now that she’s a dean, how we handle issues around sexual assault.

What I learned is how much comparative study teaches us about our own system.

Thoughts on Amanda Knox case

  • Was in Rome when this happened.
  • Was surprised by how Italian system was portrayed in the US, the lack of appreciation for a different approach.
  • The fact that she could appeal her conviction is pretty amazing – not something we allow in the US, you have to appeal on an error.

Better support for veterans

  • Rachel went to law school with and was good friends with Ambassador Chris Stevens. When he was killed she was asked to speak at a vigil for the Ambassador and the other three Americans who were killed.
  • Was very impressed by the student who organized the event, three weeks into law school; learned the student has been in the Marines and “this is what we do.” “He expressed not being understood as a veteran in law school.
  •  She went back to GGU and started looking into the student veterans and their experience. This led to multiple improvements in how they were supported on campus. Has learned a lot from these goal-oriented, hard-working students.

It’s all about.. taking the time to appreciate the perspective, their experiences, and the strengths that they bring, as well as the challenges that they face.

How to think like a lawyer –

  • Thinking like a lawyer is being prepared to think critically – not just going with your initial reaction, whether you think it’s fair. etc.
  • Trying to approach issues from a variety of perspectives
  • Having a sense of logic, but also what could push the law to change and evolve.

The best lawyers are able to step into the shoes of not only their client, but perhaps the person on the other side.

Success factors in her career

  • A lot of hard work
  • Strong support of family
  • A sense of service
  • Curiosity, particularly when a group of people aren’t being treated fairly – desire to drive change

Key  experiences in her career

  • Fulbright experience – launched a lot of her scholarship. Also living in Italy for a year at twelve years old was a transformative experience
  • First year of law school – stretching intellectual abilities, trying to stay grounded, emotionally challenging

Mistakes/obstacles along the way

  • Has a tendency to move forward. Even where things might not go the way she would like for the to go.
  • Teaching in West Texas as a Californian was challenging, but she learned from the experience.

I’ve learned something from every experience. Even if it hasn’t been the way I had hoped or envisioned something to go, I have taken something from it.

On meeting personally with every student –

  • Not a common practice amongst deans
  • Has been a powerful experience. Get to learn about students’ goals, how we can better support  them – able to feed back to faculty and staff, alumni, broader legal community.
  • Powerful for the students as well. It sets a tone for continued communication.

Valuable lesson for her students to learn /advice for listeners –

  • Stay optimistic
  • Trust yourself
  • Keep a few things sacred – careers can be all-consuming

Keep a few things sacred. What are those things that keep you grounded?