Michael Tulloch offers Osgoode grads three career lessons

Michael Tulloch

During the June 23 convocation for York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Ontario Chief Justice Michael Tulloch used the occasion of receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree to impart critical lessons to guide graduands in their legal careers.

Tulloch began his address to graduands by praising his formative time 30 years ago as a student at Osgoode. “Without the legal education and the community that this law school provided me I know with certainty that I would not be standing here this afternoon as a judge on one of the greatest and most prestigious Courts of Appeal in the Commonwealth and North America,” he said.

The ceremony led him to reflect on what it was like when he was in the graduands’ position, when he graduated as part of the Class of 1989. “At the time, I had no idea where I, or any of my classmates, would be 20 years later. But one thing we all had was a lot of hope and a real sense of pride in our accomplishments,” he said.

Decades onward, he assured grads that they’ll marvel – as he has – where that hope might take them. “Many of my classmates became outstanding lawyers, judges and academics. Some with international renowned reputations for their contributions,” he said. As Professor Emerita Mary Jane Mossman’s introduction of Tulloch made clear, he resides among the most successful from his class thanks to an accomplished career as a crown prosecutor and private practice lawyer, before being appointed to the Ontario Superior Court in 2003, to the Court of Appeal in 2012 and as Ontario Chief Justice in 2022.

“There is no doubt that 20 years or 30 years from now, most of you will be distinguished leaders within the legal profession and the Canadian society as a whole,” he said.

Tulloch proceeded to then offer graduands three important lessons that have helped keep him grounded and focused throughout his career.

“Be grateful for the privileged position that we are in his lawyers here in Canada,” he cited as the first lesson. “Where we have an amazing scientific, medical and legal infrastructure. Where political and economic stability is the norm. Where the majority in our society aspire to create a just society with a social safety net that tries to catch those in our society that may be less economically and socially fortunate.” While he acknowledged that there are now notable challenges Canada and the world face, he encouraged graduands to remember to keep those privileges and benefits in focus in order to keep preserving them.

“The world is smaller than we think, and the legal profession is even smaller,” Tulloch said of his second lesson. “Someone used to tell me that there are six degrees of separation between us, but I strongly believe that there’s only one degree.”

Mary Condon, Michael Tulloch, Kathleen Taylor
Provost and Vice-President Lisa Philipps, Michael Tulloch and Chancellor Kathleen Taylor

He asked a graduand in attendance named Ali Kwinter to stand up as way of example. “You don’t know me, as you and I have never met,” he said to Kwinter. However, he proceeded to reveal that he did know her uncle – also a lawyer – with whom he has worked out with once a week for nearly 30 years. That morning the two men had been talking, and her uncle happened to mention that his niece would be graduating that day. “That’s how I got to know who you are,” said Tulloch to Kwinter. “That’s evidence, in my view, that we’re all only one degree of separation apart.

“The moral message of this is that the world and the legal profession is so small, and we’re so interconnected, that our reputation matters and we must always guard our reputation fiercely. As the end of the day, our reputation is all that we have.”

For his final lesson, Tulloch stressed that, “People matter, especially in a global world.” As the law changes – through technological advances, globalization and equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization initiatives, to name a few – he stressed one thing should remain steadfast.

“Amidst all these changes, one thing remains constant and that is the power of the human connection. The essence of our work lies in the relationships we build, the compassion we show and the difference we make in the lives of others,” he said. “Always remember that the people that you’re interacting with are human beings, and you need to understand and empathy. To try to relate to their situation and condition. The law is not just a set of rules. It is a powerful instrument of change, aimed at fostering the spirit of compassion, empathy, and unity.”

He ended his address reiterating the importance of working together to create change in the world. “Recognize that our collective strength far surpasses the sum of our individual capabilities. Each one of you possesses a unique set of skills, experiences and perspectives. And it is by harnessing the power of our collective diversity, that we can truly affect change. Remember, the legal profession is not a solitary endeavor. It is a tapestry woven by countless hands, each thread contributing to the greater whole. It is our duty as custodians of justice, to support and uplift one another. In a world that sometimes seems fractured and divided, and at times, politically polarized, or ideologically disconnected, it is through cooperation and unity that we can build bridges, restore trust, and create a more just society,” he said.

“Together we can create a legal system that is truly reflective of the diverse society we serve, and as you leave these hallowed halls today filled with hope, knowledge and ambition, I urge you to strive not only for personal success, but also for a broader vision of a more just, and equitable society. Seek justice not only within the confines of the courtroom, but also in your communities, in the boardrooms and in every aspect of your life,” he said. “Let us rise above adversity fueled by our collective determination to pursue justice, uphold the rule of law and create a brighter and more equitable world. Congratulation graduates, the world eagerly awaits the mark you will make.”