The Sound of a Different Gavel

May/June 2002

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Calling for a “bigger bid,” Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan worked the crowd like a pro. In de rigueur black and pearls, she strode across the stage in Kresge Auditorium, auctioning off a two-night stay at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel.

“$800?” Sullivan scoffed. “That’s only two hours of paid work for a [law firm] partner!” In the deluxe suite that was up for grabs, she pointed out, one could do things the City’s patron saint had never dreamed of.

The bidding for the fancy weekend closed at $900, and the teams of law professors who had to follow Sullivan’s lead as auctioneers had their work cut out for them. Step right up to “Bid for Justice,” an annual student-run event that this year saw the usually staid Crown Quadrangle festooned with purple, white and black balloons and lined with galaxies of twinkling lights and stars. Students, alumni and faculty turned out in their cocktail best on March 2 for the 10th anniversary and helped to raise $46,000 for the Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation (SPILF) by the time the final gavel sounded. The money will provide summer grants for students who want to work in public interest jobs and will also help to fund a dozen nonprofit legal organizations, including the Navajo Nation Bar Association in Window Rock, Ariz., and the Housing Discrimination Project of Holyoke, Mass.

“It’s a fabulous program to help PI [public interest] students,” says first-year law student Heidi Brooks. “We’re already paying $30,000 in tuition, so if we can get a SPILF summer stipend of $5,000, we can afford to do what we want: to work for a PI organization, which doesn’t pay at all.”

In the silent auction that preceded the Kresge gala, attendees bid on tennis games with professors, salsa lessons, theater tickets and designated drivers for a night. But the quality goods went on the block at 8 p.m. when tuxedoed emcee (and business law professor) Joe Bankman, a.k.a. the Billy Crystal of SPILF, introduced the worldwide “audience of billions,” who appeared via grainy video. (Uh, wasn’t that Professor Bob Weisberg, JD ’79, allegedly in French Polynesia, sipping an umbrella drink?)

Some auctioneers threatened dramatic readings of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act when bidding lagged, and Professor Deborah Rhode came dangerously close to singing “Edelweiss” when she wasn’t getting what she thought an autographed Dixie Chicks guitar should command. “This is serious feminist stuff,” said the gender-law expert, “not ‘Stand By Your Man’ music.”

Sullivan returned to the stage to auction off the final mystery item—the deanship, in the form of a lifesize cardboard replica of herself. “How’d you like to run a bunch of people who have life tenure?” she asked. It was going, going, gone at $700.

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