The many faces of Krish Maharaj
Robson Hall welcomes its newest faculty member
Students in Contracts and Trusts classes will notice a stranger at the front of the room this term. At first they may think he is another student, but he will likely be wearing a suit jacket and have the air of a junior associate. A guest speaker, perhaps? Then, masking a wry smile and peering through hipster specs, he speaks, and we hear a voice like a San Francisco radio host. Questions fly: “Is that the new prof? And isn’t he supposed to be from New Zealand?” Let’s ask him and get to know Robson Hall’s newest faculty member.
Mr. Krish Maharaj is the new Assistant Professor teaching first year Contracts and Trusts. Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, he lands in Winnipeg via Edmonton and Vancouver where he practiced in civil litigation, with a stopover at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC to complete an LLM under the supervision of Professor Bruce MacDougall (visiting Robson Hall January 25 for the Distinguished Visitors Lecture Series). Currently in the process of finishing his PhD (also under Professor MacDougall’s supervision), Maharaj’s area of research focus is the law of private obligations, specifically issues related to mitigation of loss in breach of contract cases.
Despite his youth, Maharaj has a lot of accomplishments under his belt, having guest lectured in Contract Law and Commercial Transactions at UBC and having had research published in The Alberta Law Review and The Osgood Hall Law Journal. He has won several awards and fellowships including the Spencer Mason Travelling Scholarship in Law (Law Society of Auckland), the Law Foundation Fellowship (Law Foundation of British Columbia), and the UBC Four Year Doctoral Fellowship.
Maharaj brings to Robson Hall a legacy of professorship inherited from his advisor. He describes MacDougall as both “a mild mannered man whose unimposing stature contrasts with his reputation and standing in Canadian private law, and a man of immense talent and enthusiasm for his work.” He laments, however, that with many of MacDougall’s peers retiring, he “may be among the last of the masters of private law in Canada and in particular with respect to the doctrines of misrepresentation, estoppel, and mistake.”
Therefore, he encourages Robson Hall students to attend the January 25 talk, because it “may well be a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear from a scholar of such eminence in the law of obligations, and one whose level of expertise is not likely to be seen again any time soon.”
With that in mind, let us meet the new Assistant Professor:
First, Contracts and Trusts students couldn’t have a better instructor given that Maharaj’s doctoral work involves equity and Contracts. Civil remedies in private law most grabs his interest. “I think what matters most in private law,” he explains, “is what it can do for aggrieved parties, and quite apart from the question of liability, I think this really comes down to the types of remedies offered, their availability, and their sophistication because remedies are where the “rubber really meets the road”, so to speak.”
Students, take note: “Basically, at this point, theory either comes into practice when it comes to translating legal rights into adequate redress for wrongs or it fails for want of practicality, and that is all important because rights without remedies are effectively empty,” explains Professor Maharaj.
There is a need for research in this area, he says, which is why for his doctoral thesis, Maharaj is examining mitigation of loss in breach of contract cases, specifically, the effect and application of the mitigation doctrine as it applies to cases where a plaintiff seeks damages for breach of contract.
“What I am attempting to do,” he explains (stay with us here, sleepy students), “is to provide a framework for understanding what the doctrine applies to, when it does or doesn’t apply, how it applies, and importantly why it applies, or doesn’t, in a given scenario. I note that may all sound as though it ought to be settled given that the doctrine goes back at least as far as Staniforth v. Lyall in 1830, but from everything I have seen there really is very little juristic grounding for the doctrine, or theory to adequately address these questions.”
Maharaj hopes his work will fill that knowledge gap or at least spur interest from other scholars who may offer their own ideas to address the problem.
While he is currently in the research mindset, Maharaj is no stranger to teaching and quite enjoys the professor’s job of sharing knowledge. “I like a lot of classroom interaction, problem questions, and enthusiasm,” he says. “I teach what are traditionally considered to be somewhat dry subjects, but I am genuinely besotted with them, and I think my enthusiasm shines through. I also have a natural tendency to love an audience, and, like most New Zealander’s, love to crack wise. So, the students can probably expect more smiles and laughter (at least on my part) than private lawyers would otherwise expect.”
The Practicing Lawyer
How did a New Zealander who talks like an American DJ end up in Winnipeg? Well, it had much to do with the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, which had a heavy impact on jobs in New Zealand. That September, many opportunities that this University of Auckland Law graduate, freshly called to the Bar of the High Court of New Zealand that May and working in the tax division at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, suddenly disappeared.
Rather than wait around for a few years for the economy to recover, he set his sights somewhere with an economy that was doing – comparatively – well. “Given the similarity between most common law jurisdictions, Canada seemed like an ideal spot to go if I had to start again” he explains, “and, more importantly, like a spot where I might get a fair crack at making something of my abilities.”
Completing an LLM earned him a qualification of substance and helped get him back into practice, thanks to the encouragement and assistance of his mentor and friend at the University of Auckland Professor Peter Devonshire, and Professor MacDougall. Though he had success as a practicing lawyer, an academic career proved to be more compelling. “Like all of the opportunities I have had since coming to Canada,” he says, “it has simply been too good to pass up. Even if I do miss being able to BBQ outside on Christmas day like my family does back in Auckland every year.”
Impressively, Robson Hall has proved to be more appealing to Maharaj than Winnipeg’s weather is a deterrent. He explains, “The Faculty’s reputation for producing strong practitioners and your close connection to your Bar really appealed to me.” Further, being what he calls “something of a practitioner’s academic,” he feels that combination fits here much better than other places.
Although Maharaj is settling in comfortably to academia, he says he misses the immediacy of practice: “the sense of urgency, the palpable sense of purpose as you pursue a particular outcome.”
On the other hand, “I am glad to be away from the time sheets and the deadlines in a firm environment and to have the luxury of more time to think and enjoy other aspects of my life.”
Although there are certain benefits to practicing law that Maharaj considers valuable, he notes that the practitioner often has too little time to ask deeper questions or challenge the received wisdom in law. Further, he observes that, “Few of us truly have the luxury of refusing a file even if we find it uninteresting…and that I think is where the academic life does shine because it affords a degree of freedom few in the legal family know because we, to some greater or lesser extent decide what we would like to teach, and almost certainly everything we would like to research, and I value that freedom highly.”
The (future) Canadian
Can Winterpeg, Manisnowba keep this New Zealander for the long term? Maharaj has found that Canada has indeed “been a place where I could get a fair shake” and fully intends to claim Canadian citizenship as soon as he is able. “Auckland is a lovely place, and I would encourage you to visit,” he says, “But I think my future is here.”
Because of a childhood growing up near the ocean, however, he has “an abiding affection for the sea” and contemplates one day living in Scotland (“I like a good single malt, find the dialect delightful, and think I could handle the cold given the good humour of the people”). “Maybe a retirement to Islay or Skye could be on the cards one day. Or maybe Ireland.”
Everyone from students to the most senior of us – would do well to consider the new prof’s thoughtful advice: “First, think less about how your life looks to other people from the outside and more about how you want your life to look to you from the inside, and what you would want to see in order to be happy. It’s easy to buy into the idea that we must impress others in order to be content within ourselves, especially in law, with so much emphasis placed on prestige and pay and perks, but honestly none of it matters much if it doesn’t matter to you.”
“Second, be open to change, and make the best of things. Just because something isn’t what you would have chosen for yourself if you were entirely the author of your adventure doesn’t mean that you can’t find happiness in it. Maybe you don’t get the dream job or opportunity right out of the gate, but that doesn’t mean what you’ve gotten is awful.”
Welcome to Robson Hall, Assistant Professor Maharaj. May you find your dream job here!