When did you first become interested in the field of law?
I first became interested in the field at a young age. I remember watching television shows, including Perry Mason and the first television show about a law firm: L.A. Law. I also developed a great interest of historical figures in law, like Clarence Darrow and the Scopes Monkey Trial, profiled in the film “Inherit the Wind”.
By the time I entered McGill University to start my undergraduate studies, I had already developed a keen interest in law. Political Science is where I discovered the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution, and where I developed a passion for Constitutional Law.
You have had a diverse career. Talk to us about your experiences following law school.
After completing my law degree at Harvard Law School, I was fortunate to obtain a Fulbright Scholarship and secure a one-year clerkship at the Supreme Court of Israel. That meant I learned Canadian Constitutional Law in Jerusalem, which is unique. I eventually returned to the United States, worked at a law firm in San Francisco, and clerked for a U.S. Federal Court Judge in Pasadena, California.
Upon returning to Canada, I qualified for the Bar, did a year of graduate work at the University of Toronto, articled at the Supreme Court of Canada under Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, worked 3 years in private practice at BLG, followed by 3 years working for the Attorney General of Ontario.
I then decided it was time to seriously commit to becoming an academic. I completed my Master’s Degree at the University of Toronto, taught for a year at Osgoode Hall and UofT, and finally landed at the greatest job in the world at the University of Ottawa in 2008.
How did these experiences prepare you to become Dean of a law school? What were the lessons learned along the way?
It prepared me in the sense that it was very non-linear. Working in the justice system in three different countries makes you realize how large the bureaucracies are, and universities are no different.
My experience in the private sector gives me perspective in that I understand what it is like to be an articling student, or a first-year associate. I understand those stresses because I also experienced them first hand.
My time in the private sector, justice system, and later in government allowed me to obtain managerial and leadership experience. What I learned in three years in politics, be it strategy, budgeting, personnel management, or communications is indispensable.
What will be your immediate priorities as Dean?
My immediate priorities, both short- and long-term, are to build community. We are the largest law school in the country, and I think it is important to build community with our students, Faculty, graduates and the profession.
My vision is that the uOttawa Law Faculty becomes one’s community for life. One’s law school for life. This shouldn’t be just a three year experience where you get a degree. It is a lifelong connection.
What sets uOttawa’s Faculty of Law apart from others in the country and what are the advantages of studying law at uOttawa?
Being in Ottawa, our students have exposure and access to what is happening on Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as other courts and administrative tribunals.
We are privileged to have a wonderful relationship with the Supreme Court and its nine judges. It is not uncommon to have a law school event where four or five Supreme Court Justices attend.
We also offer the unique opportunity to study law in English and French.
When it comes to subject matter expertise, uOttawa is the absolute leader in the country in law and technology, environmental law, health law, public law, and immigration and refugee law. I call them “The uOttawa Big 5”. These permeate everything we do, and is our ethos of Social Justice.
What challenges do you see in the legal profession in the coming years, and how do you see setting up our students to face those challenges?
Society is changing, and we see that across different industries, such as technology, health, banking, and a host of other professions. For a long time, law thought it was impervious to those changes. It is only in the last few years that lawyers have woken up and realized that all aspects of the profession will be affected.
When I consider our students, there has never been a more exciting or daunting time to study law. Daunting, because many of the jobs available now may not exist in five, ten or fifteen years. They will be, like in every other industry, automated, replaced by machine learning and artificial intelligence. This mean that the safety net of law will be greatly reduced.
It is also exciting because there are more possibilities than ever for students to create their own opportunities. We are already seeing students seize great opportunities, whether it’s Christien Levien with Legalswipe, or one of our current students, Selena Lucien, creating an online small claims court wizard before coming to law school. Students who are able to see and seize those opportunities will succeed.
Our mandate needs to adjust to prepare students for their career, and not just for the idea of preparing students to practice on day one.
Experiential learning is an important part of the student experience at uOttawa. Do you have plans to expand the active learning opportunities available to students?
I think experiential learning and interdisciplinary partnerships will be key. As you know, law applies to every other discipline. When a new development occurs, we start asking about the legal framework surrounding it. Whether it is professionals in Health Law working on the legal policy ramifications of new health developments, or tech law experts dealing with the legal and ethical implications of artificial intelligence, we need to bring more of those sectors into the law school to empower and educate our students to help them in their career.
You are a huge baseball fan. What is your favourite team? Are there any parallels you would make between baseball and teaching law/ the legal profession?
I am a Toronto Blue Jays fan, and have been following the team for the last ten years. My son is 16 and plays baseball, and we have been closely following the sport since he started playing 10 years ago.
Baseball, like law, is a very traditional game. It is the most “small c” conservative game of any sport, and it resisted change for decades. This game always did things the way it did because that’s how things had always been done. That describes the legal system very well.
My favourite baseball book/movie on strategy and leadership is Moneyball. The fundamental question raised in the film is “if we weren’t doing things the way we’re doing, how should we best be doing them?” I’ve used that question in the past few years in my scholarship, whether asking about the role of the expert witness or asking about how we regulate lawyers, and I intend to use it as I enter my deanship. History and experience tell us how things became the way they are, but they are not a justification for continuing to do things the way we’ve been doing them.
Are there any other sports that you follow?
I am a big Ottawa Senators fan. I grew up in Vancouver, so I still follow the Canucks, and I am torn when the Canucks play the Sens. I would love to see a Canucks-Sens Stanley Cup final, but I would have a real dilemma deciding which team to cheer for!
I spend a lot of time working, and I find watching sports to be relaxing and therapeutic!
Ottawa is well known for its vibrant cultural scene, theater, music festivals and many outdoor leisure activities. Where are we most likely to find you?
I love the outdoors in Ottawa. When our son was younger and still spent time with us, we would try every weekend to go to one of the smaller towns in the Ottawa Valley, down the Rideau River, or in Gatineau. Now, my wife and I do a lot of walking. We live near the Ottawa River, and we love to get outdoors and visit the ducks in their various stages of development.