When Jeffrey Stiles arrived at the University of Virginia School of Law from a small Christian college in Pennsylvania and a Peace Corps assignment in Samoa, he knew no practicing lawyers and had only a vague notion of what lawyers actually do. But he did know he wanted to spread kindness, enjoy the UVA experience and make sure his classmates did, as well.
Now set to graduate on May 22, he can say, “mission accomplished.”
From the start, he was willing to play the foil for any professor.
Early in Stiles’ first year, Professor George S. Geis used the typically compliant Stiles to illustrate the consent requirement in contracts. Geis pulled out a few eggs and said, as Stiles recounted, “Now Jeffrey, I’m going to smash these eggs on your head for $5. If you stay silent, that means you accept.”
Fortunately for all, Stiles spoke up and rejected the offer.
“He always picks the student that he thinks is most likely to do it, and I will always take the bait,” Stiles said. “The only reason I didn’t then is because Professor Geis is such a nice man that I knew he would have felt obligated to clean up the eggy mess on the floor.
“[Professors] love to poke fun at me, but it is well-deserved,” he added.
The fun wasn’t always at Stiles’ own expense, though. He spearheaded a semester-long prank on Geis during the same Contracts class, involving the bright and tacky Hawaiian shirts Stiles was known for wearing after spending two years in Samoa.
The shirt in question was hard to miss and “unacceptably unfashionable,” Stiles said.
“A different student would wear it in each class, and we would rotate it among these students until people started noticing. If you asked us about the shirt, you were then ‘in the club’ and you were handed a secret message that you were to be the next person to wear the shirt to class, until the majority of the class had worn this shirt,” Stiles said. “And we were waiting for Professor Geis to say something, because it was a very bright, pretty obvious shirt, and we were getting aggressive in our shirt placement.”
For a while, it would always be a front-row student wearing The Shirt. In winter, the Designated Shirt-Wearer would come in wearing it over their coat.
Still nothing from Geis.
Final class. The Shirt is seated in the third row. As Geis turns to face the whiteboard, The Shirt comes off and is passed deftly to the next student to be called on. No giggles from the peanut gallery, and no acknowledgement from Geis.
The professor turns back to the board. The Shirt quickly moves on to another classmate. Nothing.
Geis then recalls the earlier egg incident to review why silence does not equal consent in contract law — and to show that he’s not as oblivious as his students might have thought.
“Remember Jeffrey and the eggs? We don't know what he’s thinking about when he’s silent. He could be thinking about whether he wants to agree to the offer. Or he could be thinking about how he’s going to try to pass around The Shirt to the next person,” Geis said.
The class erupted in laughter and cheers.
“This is just one of the dozens of things Jeffrey did to make law school enjoyable for everyone he knew,” Geis said as Stiles’ days at UVA Law came to a close. “His sense of humor is unforgettable.”
Stiles framed The Shirt in a shadow box and gave it to Geis as a parting gift.
“I just enjoy participating in class, and I’m not worried about coming across as particularly intelligent,” Stiles said of the running gag and his reputation for keeping it light.
“I’m at UVA. I made it in here just like everybody else. And so my participation style is maybe a little bit more unfiltered than other folks,’” he said with a smile. (Stiles graduated from Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in 2016.)
“Only someone with his ebullience could make Civil Procedure enjoyable, both for himself and for his classmates,” said Professor George Rutherglen, another of Stiles’ 1L instructors. “This is an achievement that will serve him well in his legal career.”
But it’s clear his classmates did appreciate him and his sense of humor. Last fall, he was one of four third-year students who won Ritter Awards for “best exemplify[ing] the qualities of honor, character and integrity envisioned by Thomas Jefferson when he founded UVA.”
A fellow student nominated him for the award after Stiles decided to move to Fredericksburg for the second semester of his second year, while taking classes online during the pandemic, to take care of his terminally ill grandmother. His nominator, Nathan Eagan, cited his affability, selflessness, positivity and generosity. “I have met very few people like Jeffrey, who consistently finds ways to improve the lives of everyone he encounters,” Eagan wrote.
He was also named an “Unsung Hero” that year, an honor initiated by the Office of Student Affairs and the Student Bar Association to recognize students willing to lift the spirits of those around them during the pandemic.
He was nominated for his good energy during online classes and for sending assigned readings and textbook photocopies to a classmate in need. His nominator wrote that “over the last year, bumping into Jeff has been like catching the perfect wave on an otherwise waveless day at the beach.”
Stiles also served on the Virginia Journal of International Law editorial board and is a member of the Law Christian Fellowship and the Latin American Law Organization. (He was born in Peru while his family was stationed there for missionary work, then moved to New Oxford, Pennsylvania. He speaks Spanish and Samoan fluently, and also has some facility with Mandarin Chinese.)
Stiles was also a Peer Advisor, a Law School ambassador and a full-time extern last fall with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.
As his classes this semester wound down, Stiles took time for one more special prank. He organized a surprise 70th birthday party for Professor Ruth Buck ’85, his Legal Research and Writing instructor from his first year. (“Every week, upon entering the classroom, he would bellow out ‘PROFESSOR BUCK!!!’ It set the tone for an energized class session,” she said.)
After graduation, Stiles will join Cozen O’Connor’s private client services group in the Philadelphia office before taking leave to clerk for U.S. Judge Chad F. Kenney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for the 2024 term.
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