College of Law

Professor Ben Barton addresses Stanford Law School and honored guests as visiting scholar

Posted February 10, 2017

In January UT Law Professor Ben Barton crisscrossed the country speaking to audiences on both the east and west coasts.

Up first was the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, where Barton spent a week as a visiting scholar at the invitation of the Center’s Director and Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law, Deborah Rhode.

Barton made three presentations at Stanford.  He discussed his book, Glass Half Full, to an audience of law technology startup leaders, law firms, and general counsel of large technology companies. Among those present were chief legal officers of Google, Adobe, NetApp, and Microsoft; the former managing partner of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, one of the largest law firms in the world; leaders from law technology innovators Ravel Law and Rimon Law; and the directors of the Stanford Legal Design Lab and Stanford’s Center on the Legal Profession.

Barton’s book, Glass Half Full, describes the past, present, and future of the American legal profession with a special emphasis on the large-scale changes that technology and globalization have unleashed.

This was a group of some high-level individuals, and the resulting discussion is something Barton described as exceptionally rich. “I learned more than I taught,” he said.

Later in the week, Barton introduced a draft of his forthcoming book, Diversity on the Court: A Study of Supreme Court Justice Backgrounds and Why They Matter, to members of the Stanford law faculty. The book explores two different empirical studies examining the backgrounds of each Supreme Court Justice prior to joining the Court and how the types of individuals on the Court have evolved over the years.

In the book, Barton argues that the modern Supreme Court Justice is quite different than the historical one and that this change has lessened experiential diversity on the Court. He contends that even though we have seen increasing gender and racial diversity, the overall trend is toward justices from similar backgrounds (elite education, limited practical experience, and years in academia or as a federal appeals court judge) and that this lack of background diversity is detrimental to decision-making.

Barton capped off his week at Stanford by teaching legal technology and the future of the legal profession to Professor Rhode’s Professional Responsibility class.

Talking about legal technology in Silicon Valley to 60+ Stanford law students is indeed speaking “from the belly of the beast,” Barton said, pointing out that multiple students reported actively working on tech startups of their own. He once again found himself taking notes as well as teaching.

After a successful visit at Stanford, Barton found himself in New York City the following week for the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) conference, where he was a keynote speaker.  The crowd included roughly 175 large law firm hiring professionals and law school placement officials.  He spoke to the audience about the dire state of the market for American law schools over the past few years and the challenges going forward.

Barton admits that the caliber of these audiences and the topics discussed gave him some “butterflies” but, now that he’s back home on Rocky Top, he’s quite pleased with all that he learned and the people he met.