Meet Professor Danielle Stokes

November 1, 2021
Professor Stokes returns to her alma mater to teach environmental law

What led you to Richmond?

I have quite a few roots here in Richmond. I went to undergrad here at University of Richmond. Then I went to law school at the University of Virginia. After I left law school, I moved back to Richmond to work for McGuireWoods. The detour to explore academia is what sent me away from Virginia. Coming back to Richmond in essence, feels like I'm sort of coming home.

How would you describe like your career path to this point?

I would say it's been traditional from the legal profession sense in that I went to law school and then I went to a large law firm to practice law. I had planned to do big law, invest and be a partner, and do those types of things. However, one thing that I did not do in my job search was really ask myself the important questions: What do I want to do? What do I value? Will my values be integrated in my work life? I didn't know that was something that was important to me when I thought about a job or a career. I thought about the financial benefit , but then I learned that I'm not really motivated and inspired solely by finances. I would say having those tough conversations with myself helped me to navigate my career and think about what mattered most to me. What issues did I want to explore? What interests did I want to serve? How could I be true to myself and my values and still utilize a law degree and use the skills that I have been honing?

Did you always know you wanted to go to law school?

I didn’t know until my junior year of college. I had this interdisciplinary major – politics, philosophy, economics, and law – and I had an extreme interest in doing education policy. That’s what I really thought I was interested in, but I had no idea how to pursue it. There were a lot of people who said I think you would make a good lawyer. “Oh, you have this skill, you have that skill.” But I did not do good due diligence to really explore what does it mean to be a lawyer. I sort of fell into it since I had checked these boxes. I took the LSAT. I scored well enough and got into the schools, so I just went with it. It was not really a planned decision.

What has surprised you about Richmond Law?

 This is a place where I feel like people are genuinely concerned about who you are as a person and how you are managing your work. They make sure you have the necessary resources to be successful. Also, I noticed that in the students as well. They are considerate in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Overall the University cultivates this environment where people have this feeling of I can share myself in a way that it's going to be accepted. In the classroom, I've witnessed that students feel comfortable engaging in a space that allows them to speak freely, talk through their questions and issues, and really show up as themselves. 

What piece of advice would you give to current students?

Don't be like me and just go with the flow. Really be thoughtful in the decision-making process for your first job and the jobs you may want in the future. You're in the best position as a student to ask the hard questions of lawyers or whomever when you're trying to make those choices. If you're not from a place where you know people personally in the profession, do what you need to do to cultivate those relationships, develop the network so that you're making an informed decision and a decision that's aligned with your values and priorities. 

Since you’re familiar with Richmond, what would you recommend students from outside of Richmond to do?

I’m a big foodie. Most of the restaurant restrictions from COVID have been lifted, so I would say explore as many restaurants as possible. I don't think you realize how many options there are here. Leaving and coming back, I realized how fortunate I was being here to try so many restaurants.

Beyond that, I would say just explore all of the neighborhoods and little pockets because they all seem to tell a different story. I'm big into history and culture, so working in property and environmental law, those areas are exciting to me because I like to understand the history of the place. And Virginia plays such a huge part in history at large.