Stanford Law Students Honored for Dedication to Community and Public Service

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On May 14th, Stanford Law School (SLS) students were honored for their community service work, pro bono activities and contributions in public interest law at a ceremony attended by faculty, staff and students. At the event, Dean Jenny Martinez spoke about the importance of nurturing a strong community at the law school that supports public service.

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“Our mission to make the years our students spend at Stanford Law the best experience possible would be incomplete if we didn’t highlight public service and provide opportunities to serve our communities,” said Martinez. “When I look at the 2018/2019 stats, with more than 100 students graduating with pro bono honors, and a large percentage of next year’s graduating class who have enough hours ALREADY to qualify for pro bono distinction, I think our focus on service truly resonates with our students, faculty and staff. I am truly impressed by how our community goes above and beyond to contribute to the world around us.”

Leon M. Cain Community Service Award

Stanford Law Students Honored for Dedication to Community and Public ServiceFrom left to right: Rachel Sohl, Marlena Wisniak, Meghan Koushik, and Carra Rentie

Named in honor of Leon Cain, a highly regarded third-year Stanford Law School student who died in the summer of 2018, the Leon M. Cain Community Award was initially created in 2018 as the Community Leadership Award but was renamed this year in recognition of Leon’s leadership and impact on the SLS community. The award, voted on by the student body, was presented to a student in each class who strengthened the law school community through their leadership, support and care.

The following students received the 2019 Leon M. Cain Community Service Award:

  • Rachel Sohl, JD’ 21
  • Marlena Wisniak, LLM ‘19
  • Meghan Koushik, JD ‘19
  • Carra Rentie, JD ‘20

John and Terry Levin Center Public Service Awards

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With a moving video about the history of SLS’s public service awards and a short speech, Deborah Rhode, Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and award sponsor, introduced the two long-standing public interest awards and winners. “Doing work in the public interest, for causes you care about or people less fortunate, really helps yourself as well as others,” said Rhode. 

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“People who give back in that way are better on every dimension of human satisfaction. They live longer, they’re happier, and they find much more meaning and have much healthier lives.”

“Through the Levin Center, SLS provides opportunities, including financial support, for students and alumni who are interested in advancing the public good and achieving social justice,” said Diane Chin, associate dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law.

Lisa M. Schnitzer Memorial Scholarship

The Lisa M. Schnitzer Memorial Scholarship was established by the family and friends of Lisa M. Schnitzer, a first-year student at Stanford Law School who was killed in a car accident in 1987. The scholarship was designed to be a lasting tribute to Lisa, in recognition of her deeply held commitment to helping others, particularly those less fortunate. Each recipient of this award is selected by a committee comprised of law students who represent Women of Stanford Law, Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation and the Stanford Law Association.

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Lauren Shephard, JD ‘21

Prior to law school, Lauren conducted research on civil rights and prisoners’ rights and wrote an award-winning thesis that highlighted the importance of client-centered lawyering to the victories in Ashker v. Brown, a case that secured important reforms to California’s solitary confinement conditions. Lauren also worked at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, helping children navigate the immigration system. At Stanford, Lauren continued to seek opportunities to develop as an advocate, serving as a volunteer with the Prisoner Legal Services Pro Bono Project. This summer, Lauren will support litigation efforts on behalf of immigrant communities as an intern with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Deborah L. Rhode Public Interest Award

The Deborah L. Rhode Public Interest Award recognizes graduating students whose activities have resulted in outstanding contributions to underrepresented groups or public interest causes outside of Stanford Law School and/or outstanding public service within the law school.

The award selection committee—comprised entirely of alumni who are past Rhode Award winners—chose two recipients who were nominated by faculty, staff and fellow students.

Cynthia Amezcua, JD ‘19

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Cynthia will begin her career working at the Orleans Public Defenders, having received the Stanford Criminal Defense Fellowship. While there, she will represent indigent clients, which includes case investigation, filing motions and plea deal negotiations, and advising noncitizen clients. During her time at SLS, Cynthia has been an active leader in the Law School community. She has served as Co-Chair and Co-Founder of First Generation Professionals, Community Chair of the Stanford Latino Law Students Association and Co-President of the Race and Criminal Justice Reading Group. She has also served with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project at the Dilley Detention Center and with Ayuda Legal Huracán María in Puerto Rico.

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Makeba Rutahindurwa, JD ‘19

Makeba came to SLS after spending two years working at the ACLU and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Once at SLS, Makeba involved herself in the public interest community and has served as Housing pro bono coordinator, VP of Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation bar grants, a member of the Black Law Students Association board and working group, and a Public Interest fellow. During 2L spring break, she went on an alternative spring break trip to volunteer with the New Orleans Public Defender. And over her summers, she has continued to dedicate herself to public interest by interning at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she worked on voting rights cases, and at a law firm working on wrongful convictions cases.

About the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law

The mission of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School is – through courses, research, pro bono projects, public lectures, academic conferences, funding programs and career development – to make public service a pervasive part of every law student’s experience and ultimately help shape the values that students take into their careers. It also engages in programming and research that support development of the public interest legal community to increase access to justice.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.