The E.L. Cord Professor of Law at the William S. Boyd School of Law, Kathryn Stanchi has crafted a career out of two loves — feminism and writing. Now she teaches UNLV’s law students in a variety of writing courses, including advanced persuasive strategies and drafting judicial opinions for social justice.
What breakthrough or discovery in your field do you wish you had made?
I’m laughing because like, all of them? Whenever I read a good law review article in my field, I think: I wish I had written that! If I had to pick just a couple, I would say I wish I had thought of Catharine MacKinnon’s theory of dominance. When I read her book, I felt like my eyes were open for the first time. It put a name to what I had been experiencing as a woman my whole life. When I read Linda Edwards’ work on the narrative of law, I wished I had thought of that too. It opened my eyes to a new way of seeing law and legal reasoning. Good legal scholarship should teach you something but it also should have a recognizable “ah ha” quality to it. New, but also familiar.
Is your current career ultimately what you thought you’d do?
If we’re talking about when I was a kid, not even close. I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals and wanted to help them. College biology lab – the dissections in particular – nipped that right in the bud! To this day, I can’t stand to see my cats get shots or uncomfortable tests. I’m a total wimp that way.
But then in college, I got involved in politics. I worked on political campaigns and did some lobbying. I learned that I really needed legal training to persuade people effectively. I also learned that people listen to lawyers more than they listen to people without a degree. That made me very interested in persuasion.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I feel so lucky that I have been able to fashion a career out of two things – feminism and writing – that I have been passionate about for so long. I loved to write even when I was a kid. I wrote all the time – journals, letters, stories. I’m probably one of the few people who went to law school wanting to research and write; I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a full-time trial lawyer. When I clerked, I read excellent briefs and pretty terrible briefs. Same with my law practice. I often thought: I’d like to teach people to do better than this.
What drew you to UNLV?
One of the other visits was when Terry invited me to be a visiting scholar here. I had such a nice time. I thought the faculty was terrific, so smart and friendly. I liked the West Coast vibe – I’d lived my whole life on the East Coast. Lots of cities – Philly, D.C., Boston, New York. I’d visited the West but not for any extended period. After I gave a noontime talk to the faculty, Terry took me – in my dress – for a hike to show me the “other” Vegas. She loaned me a pair of Vibram shoes because all I had were dress shoes. I can’t imagine what people thought but no one gave me a second look in my business clothes and Vibrams! I was floored by the scenery and the beauty. I’m an outdoor girl.
And then Linda, with whom I worked on two books, just kept telling me how great it was at Boyd. And Linda’s been such a dear friend and mentor to me. So, when I saw the ad for the position, I sat down with my husband and said, “Can we do this?”
What was your biggest misconception about UNLV or Las Vegas before you got here? Or best surprise about working here?
I try to keep an open mind about places. When Dean Dan (Hamilton) was talking to me about moving here, he mentioned that Vegas had a bit of an image problem. I laughed – I mean, I grew up and lived in New Jersey. Talk about an image problem!
But I think what I was most pleasantly surprised by was the art scene here. There’s so many young, up-and-coming artists in the downtown area. We love going to the Arts Factory and to Ferguson’s and Market in the Alley. I’m even taking a color class with Open Art Las Vegas. So fun and it gets me out of my head, where I live most of the time.
What is it like teaching remotely during the pandemic?
What problem in the world would you most like to fix?
Well, there are a lot of problems I’d like to fix. Racism, misogyny, and poverty are at the top of my list. I suppose on some level those are all about people being more thoughtful and introspective about themselves and their biases – because that’s the first step toward fixing them. And I think a lot of problems in our society would be solved by eliminating poverty; I think all people, rich and poor, would be better off if no one were poor. I love to travel and when I have traveled to countries that have a real safety net – health care for everyone, true security for the aging, sick, and disabled – everyone is just nicer, probably because they know it’s all going to be OK. It’s pretty pleasant and I wish the U.S. could embrace that.
What is your biggest mishap or lesson learned in the lab/field?
I have made so many, many mistakes. Intellectually, I know that’s how we learn. Emotionally, though, I really, really hate to make mistakes. I have a saying on my door by Niels Bohr that an expert is just someone who has made all the mistakes you can make in a field. So true – and I’m not there yet. I probably have a bunch more mistakes coming. But I’d say one of the biggest was being embarrassed to give my scholarship to people for feedback. How ironic since I teach my students the importance of feedback! But I was too scared; I thought they’d tell me it was terrible. Because of that, I have published things that could have been a lot better and that I wish were better. I look at some of my earlier writings and let’s just say I’m glad they are not widely read.
And I won’t even go into the mistakes I made in practice. Like the time I failed to read the rules of procedure and got caught on it when I was before the judge. It was early in the case, and when I appeared before that judge again he said “Ms. Stanchi, did you real the rules today?” Awful. But a learning experience.
What’s the most Vegas thing you’ve done since you got here?
I think the most Vegas thing I’ve done was after my interview. My sister, who lives in San Diego, flew here to meet me after my interview. I made her hike in Red Rock Canyon and she is really not a hiker. Then she made me go see “Big Elvis” at a bar on the Strip. If you don’t know who Big Elvis is, I recommend Googling him. Then we had martinis and raw oysters at an oyster bar on the Strip. That was a really Vegas day!