"Law draws directly on core skills developed through a good history program: engagement with primary sources, openness to competing interpretations of events, and an appreciation of the contingency and unintended consequences of political action."
Class of 1983
I am a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Sidley Austin. My legal practice focuses on constitutional law, administrative law, and cross-border litigation – usually in U.S. appellate courts.
First Steps after Graduation:
After graduating from Stanford, I attended Oxford University on a scholarship, initially intending to study 17th and early 18th century English history. Once there, I found that the Oxford history course largely addressed materials and issues that my Stanford courses had thoroughly canvassed, and so I switched programs to see whether legal studies suited me.
How did you end up pursuing your career? Do you have any advice for students contemplating similar career paths? What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were an undergraduate?
My career has been shaped by interests in American governance and politics and an appetite for variety. As a result, I have clerked for judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, served in the White House as a lawyer to the President and on the National Security Council staff, worked in Australia as a lawyer and then banker for several years, and developed a law practice that has variously focused on counter-terrorism issues, foreign sovereign immunity, regulatory issues, veterans issues, and issues of Presidential and Congressional authority. I have found that a D.C.-focused, public law practice allows considerable career flexibility, engagement with policy communities, and exposure to the structure and operation of governance
Has your History training helped you along the way - and if so, how?
My history studies provided excellent preparation for my legal career. Law, or at least appellate litigation and regulatory work, draws very directly on the core skills developed through a good history program: close engagement with primary sources, a critical understanding of the public meaning of texts, openness to competing interpretations of events, and an appreciation of the contingency and unintended consequences of political action. Similarly, a grounding in American history assists tremendously in understanding and addressing U.S. public law and legal institutions. (I recommend that aspiring lawyers and those interested in public policy also study finance and economics extensively.)
Do you have any particularly fond memories of the History Department?
The year-long, introductory U.S. history course was a highlight of my studies at Stanford. I likely learned more from Bailyn’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, including how to think about change and conflict, than from any other book I encountered as an undergraduate (perhaps excepting Burke’s Reflections) -- and that can be attributed in large measure to Prof. Rakove. Prof. Kennedy’s analysis of the New Deal made a similar impression, as did his focus on institutions and governance. Prof. Gordon Wright served as a model of intellectual engagement and inquiry. Prof. Seaver’s English history courses and Prof. Roberts’ slavery course taught me far more than the material at hand. I was very fortunate to learn from such gifted scholars and teachers.