Running down a dream – of law school
New Dean, Dr. Richard Jochelson leads UM’s Faculty of Law toward outstanding goals
Since being appointed Dean of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law on July 1, 2021, Dr. Richard Jochelson has been working non-stop to chip away at the iceberg-sized pile of much-needed upgrades to be made at Western Canada’s oldest law school. His efforts are already yielding significant results after nearly six months, especially in curriculum upgrades, addressing Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #28, expanding externship and clinical opportunities, hiring much-needed faculty and staff, and deepening relationships between the Faculty and the broader legal community. It’s hard to think of where the Faculty might be today if he had pursued a Master’s in Zoology instead of Law.
Jochelson has taught at the Faculty of Law since 2016, having achieved the position of full Professor in 2019. Until his appointment as Dean, he maintained a busy schedule as the lead on a major Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant, co-editor of Robson Crim, a thriving law blog written by a cross-Canada network of legal professionals and student contributors, and was teaching a full slate of courses including Criminal Law and Procedure, Charter Issues in Criminal Law, and Sexual Expression, Conduct and Work in Canada. He regularly published new books and research papers (either solely or co-authored) in notable presses and journals, adding to a very respectable volume of published works. After a few years of quietly observing the Faculty, Jochelson stepped up to the plate when the Dean position was advertised. It would not be the first time he took a risk to choose a career path less traveled.
On a southern train
– Interstate Love Song, Stone Temple Pilots
Once upon a time, a University of Calgary Zoology graduate student named Richard Jochelson, discovered he was “not cut out for hard sciences,” joined a band as a guitarist and hit the road. “It was mainly a lot of fun, and it was that point in life where you face familial pressure like “become a doctor”,” Jochelson explains. “It was on a band tour to Los Angeles where I wrote off my partner’s car and found myself alone without a vehicle in the barren desert of California with 60 dollars to my name.”
Jochelson had applied to law school earlier that year but was “in a different kind of desert with that”, being stuck on the dreaded waitlist. “It was fair to say I was abandoned in a desert with no car, no money and no prospects. I managed to sell off the car for scrap metal and crawl to Tumwater, Washington (near Olympia, birthplace of grunge music)” he adds.
“One week later I was back at home and the phone rang: it was Professor Chris Levy from University of Calgary Law School. I think I accepted before he completed his fourth syllable.”
“You gave me life, now show me how to live.”
– Show me how to live, Audio Slave
Thus Richard, the self-described “listless and unemployable” zoology grad-turned musician began the journey to become Dr. Jochelson, law professor. His current colleagues and students know him as an expert in criminal law, but he explains this interest extended from Charter issues that arise in criminal law, “especially those that involve the interplay of persons at the wrong end of police encounters.”
“This is also a great launching point to think about institutional racism, discrimination and the different experiences that persons resident on these lands have with policing,” he continues, slipping into Professor mode, “so it draws on some important socio-legal theory. It also draws on big picture socio-legal issues like surveillance society and precautionary cultures that tie into some leading-edge critiques of the modern state.”
Academia was not a hard choice for Jochelson, who clerked at the Alberta Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench before spending enough time working at law firms to know he wanted to return to school.
“I was actually on secondment at the Edmonton Courts when 9/11 happened,” he explains. “The rest of my time was a short five-month stint at Fraser Milner Casgrain (now Dentons) where I had also summered as a law student.”
He had already applied for LLM programs early in his articles, and his firm was supportive in helping him further his studies, so at that point he was certain the LLM would be merely “a brief diversion and I would be back to firm life before long.”
While practicing law did not inspire him to study more, law school did. “I had come to law school from a world of hard sciences,” he says. “I remember in law school seeing a whole new world open up (after the first six months of crying).”
“It was just as law school ended that I felt like I had not learned enough and that I wanted to dig deeper into the study of law.”
“When I went into the practice side of things, I realized that the work was responsive – responsive to the associates and partners, who were giving you work, and of course to clients,” Jochelson reflects. “It really demonstrated that the flow of business would decide how and what you learned. I came to realize that there were concepts and ideas I wanted to study more and really delve into, and I had always had a passion for education. Once that clicked, I knew I wanted more schooling.”
“I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all”
– Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell
It was while working on his LLM at Toronto that a series of incidents turned his life course towards becoming a university professor. While enjoying life on the St. George campus, he was beset by serious health issues that required surgeries. Upon recovering, he visited his thesis advisor, thinking, “today, is the first day of the rest of my life.”
During the visit, however, a flash blizzard hit Toronto. En route to the subway after his meeting, Jochelson fell down two flights of stairs shattering his ankle, resulting in more hospital time and several years of recovery. At that point, he decided returning to legal practice did not make any sense, so he made the call to further pursue studies at Osgoode while rehabilitating from his injuries.
Despite having chosen the academic path, Jochelson fully recognizes the profound importance of the practice of law through his own experience and through conversations with practitioners. “It takes a keen mind, an incredible work ethic, an incredible attention to detail, and a willingness to be a first responder in terms of the rule of law.”
“The most important trait one needs, I think, is the willingness to accept the realities and limitations of the file you are working on and to service that file and the client in line with ethical standards and to the best of your abilities.”
The Dean considers both sides of the study and practice of law: “I think we need to do more to let students know about the seriousness of the pursuit. On the other hand, there is a lifetime of thinking to do about any area of law, and if your passion is to follow your muse to explore those areas, practice is a challenge. Certainly, a good lawyer is a lifelong learner, but the learning relates to one’s competency. A scholar of law is following their research passions and might find themselves sidetracked by legal practice – a select few juggle both.”
You choose, you learn
You pray, you learn
You ask, you learn
You live, you learn
– You Learn, Alanis Morissette
Once a professor, his teaching style evolved over time, and he still considers it a work in progress. “As cliché as it sounds, over time I have really come to believe in the “guide on the side” model,” he explains, “In my early teaching years, I was very performative, an infotainer maybe. In a way, that was the easy and popular way to teach. But I have learned that just because a style is well-liked does not mean it is pedagogically effective.”
From experience, Jochelson now considers self-directed learning to be most effective, especially for Robson Hall’s law students, whom he describes as “amongst the brightest we could hope for.”
“I have really come to believe in directed and curated seminars where students have agency within the parameters of the materials and questions I provide,” he explains. “I especially notice that students with life experience thrive in this environment. I also see a very real clinical benefit in this.”
As the Faculty on-boards much-needed new law professors and instructors, Jochelson shares some advice for the new-hires:
“Prepare but don’t obsess. Be open to critique but don’t make sudden changes to your style until you have engaged in considered reflection. Ask a trusted colleague to sit in on your class and schedule a debrief. Remember that few of us are natural teachers, most of us grow into effectiveness, and expect a bumpy start but prepare for a glorious flight, ultimately. Don’t be afraid to talk about your teaching insecurities with your colleagues. We have all been there, and we can relate. There is tremendous pressure to have a perfect early career. I can promise you that few journeys are perfect and that craft is perfected over time.”
“Time is never time at all
You can never ever leave
Without leaving a piece of youth
And our lives are forever changed”
– Tonight Tonight, The Smashing Pumpkins
A Dr. Jochelson of seven years ago would have sworn up and down that he had no desire to be at Robson Hall. He had a satisfying job, but his late mother was very ill at the time, so he interviewed at a law school to be close to her in her last days. While he didn’t get the job, the experience reminded him what he loved about law schools: “the intelligent students, the colleagues that you could discuss salient issues with, and the culture of educating with a purpose.”
Therefore, he applied for a teaching position at Robson Hall once one arose. “It was so thrilling to get the chance to work here, and I have never regretted it,” he says.
Now as Dean, he is modest about occupying this leadership role. “For me leadership isn’t natural – in the sense that I am not some alpha primate than can command a room because of my tremendous riches or husky baritone,” he explains with his trademark dry humour.
“I am not really oriented towards hierarchy and let’s face it, [most of] the world is so oriented. What I can say is that I am always listening,” he explained. “I absorb information for a year or two, map out relationships and code strengths and weaknesses at an organizational level. I also have a strong belief in collegial governance – I largely trust our collective wisdom as professionals to orient towards improved answers.”
The University of Winnipeg where he previously taught, was quite small. With his law degree, his skill-set was desirable university-wide, and he soon found himself drafting senate standing rules, developing Intellectual Property policies, sitting on collective bargaining teams, and acting as president of the faculty association where he learned the value of teamwork. “When my grant applications were being developed here at Robson Hall, I was very minded about putting together strong teams,” he reflects.
“When you have a trusted and motivated team, and when you have the privilege of leading that group, you can accomplish amazing things. That is why I am so excited to be here, at the law school, now. This is a special place with tremendous talent. We need to clue in the rest of the world as to how special it is.”
Despite taking on the heavy responsibility of Dean of Law at a time when his own research projects are reaching a peak, Jochelson sees his current role as being supportive of his colleagues’ work. “My portfolio now is no longer about my research interests – it is time to put those to the periphery and to help our collective garden grow,” he explains.
“Once you know you can never go back
I gotta take it on the other side”
– Otherside, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Having surveyed the scene at the Faculty for some years now, Jochelson identifies the school’s emerging and established strengths as including Public Law and Human Rights, Corporate Commercial Law, and Critical Legal Studies. These all need to be placed in the broader context of the Faculty’s and the University of Manitoba’s missions to foster Indigenous research and learning in order to encourage an inclusive and diverse environment, he observes. “This means – in part – welcoming Indigenous practitioners to this community and recognizing that these voices can really help re-orient and invigorate the research and clinical mission of the school,” he explains. “Collaboration can make for amazing research in my experience, so I encourage our Faculty to build bridges and to work together. It galvanizes your work quality, the exposure of your work and your funding opportunities.”
Jochelson recognizes all too well that research can be a lone pursuit, and wants to see researchers succeed and prosper but also to help publicize and share their work with broader audiences who can benefit from it. At the same time, he recognizes the Faculty must encourage clinical and advocacy work, and support and value public intellectualism.
Next up, the Faculty is preparing to expand the Master of Human Rights program by hiring the Mauro Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice housed at Robson Hall, which has the benefit of connecting a potentially insular faculty to work closely with other academic disciplines. “There is exciting growth there on the horizon,” Jochelson said. “This is all a delicate balance. We exist to teach prospective lawyers, but we also need to provide intellectual space for our faculty and students to explore critical ideas and research.”
“We are the sole provider of law graduates in the province, and we are a durable and prolific provider of articling students here, so we have a special responsibility to grow deliberatively.”
Acknowledging the long tradition of law schools’ inclination to keep to itself, Jochelson says this has broken down over the last two decades. “We already see many of our professors reaching out across disciplines, faculties and programs,” he said, citing recent examples where law professors have collaborated on research projects with other scholars in the Health Sciences, Sociology, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), Peace and Conflict Studies, Psychology, Education, Psychiatry, Politics, History, Philosophy, Social Work and others. Recognizing that the results of these collaborations may help generate funding opportunities and thereby grow opportunities for students, Jochelson notes that overall, the entire faculty benefits. “As a collective, we have obvious linkages we could draw on from a teaching perspective with sociology, criminology, business, NCTR and social work. Probably what we have been lacking in the past are willing minds in multiple leadership positions simultaneously across Faculties,” he muses. “Timing is so important on these sorts of collaborations.”
At the graduate level, clinical options are in the works for Master of Laws students. The Faculty already has two clinical professors, and is in the process of hiring two clinical instructors with at least two more staff members licensed to practice law. “It would also be an opportunity to gain advanced clinical experience for students who feel a bit timid in terms of their clinical skills, in advance of practicing,” he said.
As for the Faculty’s other graduate program, the Master of Human Rights degree, Jochelson is very pleased with the job being done by Dr. Kjell Anderson, program director, and Dr. Laura Reimer, program coordinator. Tied to the program, the endowed Mauro Chair in Human Rights Research is on course to be filled early in 2022. “The sky is the limit for the program,” said Jochelson. “Right now, it is a world class interdisciplinary program but when the Mauro Chair joins, the profile will increase further, and that scholar will be in a position to do more public-facing events, get involved in advocacy work in the human rights sphere even more, and maybe even develop the first doctorate in the Faculty of Law.”
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
I’m runnin’ down a dream
– Runnin’ down a dream, Tom Petty
With all these heavy matters on his plate, Jochelson still finds time to be a dad to two daughters, a spouse, and a human to the family Havanese (a small pile of hair known for dog-like characteristics). Along with this supportive family (“the dog less so”), Jochelson admits to having “a not-so-secret guitar problem,” and indeed, has been observed on occasion carrying instrument cases about Robson Hall. “I love electric and acoustic guitars, I love guitar amplification. I am a very average player, but I do find it very therapeutic and meditative to strum some chords,” he admits.
During the pandemic, he and an old friend recorded some songs and released them on streaming services. “We maxed out at 31 listeners! It was amazing fun even if, justifiably, it had no impact in the world of music,” he said. “When you get to my age, it is probably ill advised to play rock music, but the fun factor keeps me involved.”
Jochelson is full of stories about his touring musician days, but at the end of the day, he said, he realized at some point he had to make a living. “My parents had immigrated to Canada in 1980, and this whole music thing was very nerve wracking for them. They moved to Canada so their kids could succeed and there I was after college, writing off cars and pursuing a low-odds dream. And they were right! Law school ended up being the real dream, and I didn’t realize it until years later. Ultimately, I never left, and I say with all honesty, the privilege of this work is a high honour, and for me it is the dream.”