Monday, November 6, 2017


Portia Pedro, PhD candidate

My dissertation was inspired by work I did as an attorney. As an attorney, I was working on marriage equality in New Jersey. And I had a number of clients who won and who won the ability to marry in New Jersey.

But while the appeal was pending, we did not know if they would be able to win or if we would have to wait until it worked its way through the Supreme Court, maybe, to find out whether or not they would be able to be married. A number of my clients were in and out of the hospital and in dire situations. As I looked to write our brief on what the court should do, I discovered that there wasn't much case law on whether or not a court should be able to enforce an order pending appeal.

And there wasn't much scholarship on it. At that moment, I couldn't write it myself because I was litigating. And I thought, if somebody could look at this more in the future, that might really be helpful for courts, for parties, and for other scholars. My dissertation topic is looking into procedural mechanisms, like stays pending appeal, and trying to figure out how judges make decisions about what to do while the case is pending.

I especially look at decisions that might seem to be procedural technicalities. But when you look at them in the aggregate, they actually decide the outcomes for a number of parties. So my dissertation is looking at stays pending appeal and a number of other areas to see if there might be forgotten procedures where judges could use a good amount of help in sussing out what the procedural standard would be as they decide about parties' lives and livelihoods.

I think when I entered the PhD program, some of my ideas were more topics. They were topics of interest, sometimes something that I had come across while practicing. And it seemed that there was something more there that I wished I had time to think about. While I've been in the PhD program, my ideas have developed from topics to actual scholarly lines of research.

And one idea that I thought was one paper, once you start digging into it and talking to professors about it and talking to other people in the field about it, it spun out into at least six. Luckily I'm interested in it, so that's good. There's something special about Yale for an academic scholarly program, specifically Yale Law School. And the institution and the community members are unbelievable in terms of the resources and support they give. I did my PhD in law here in part because when I reached out to people to begin to talk about even the application process, the number of faculty members who responded to me and had long interactions with me was astounding.

In my first year here, I was going around and meeting with different faculty members. And I remember I had asked someone, what is the number of tenured faculty Yale Law School professors? And they told me. And I said, that can't be. Because I had talked to almost 3/4 of them, even though they weren't in my field, to help me with my research.

For me, as I was sitting in the Yale Law Women's inaugural event and Heather Gerken spoke, Tracey Meares spoke, a number of professors here spoke. I got chills because it reminded the students, PhD candidates, other professors, anybody attending that we have the resources and help we need here or the contacts, whoever they are elsewhere, to do anything we'd like. And the amount of commitment to help us do that is spectacular in terms of weekly meetings or reading drafts or telling me when one paper isn't the way I want to go and I should really look at pursuing other options. I think there's not a better institution to help set people on a path to develop who they are and who they'd like to be as scholars.

A student perspective on the PhD in Law program and the Yale Law School community.