Martin Phillipson, dean of the College of Law
Martin Phillipson, dean of the College of Law

New dean makes the case for a lifetime in law

Make no mistake, Martin Phillipson loves the law. But the truth is, it wasn’t exactly his first passion.

“Soccer and playing the drums were my two first loves and law was a distant third, but the other two weren’t going to pay the bills with my talent!” said Phillipson, the new dean of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.

While he couldn’t make a case for a career as an athlete or as a musician, the verdict is certainly in on Phillipson’s commitment to the classroom and enthusiasm for education in a lifetime in law.

His talent for teaching and love of lecturing has taken him around the world and back to the place where it all began, some 27 years ago at the U of S.

“I am really passionate and enthusiastic about lots of things, but I am really passionate about this place,” said Phillipson, who has held multiple positions since first joining the faculty at the U of S back in 1999, including overseeing the recent organizational restructuring in the College of Medicine.

“The U of S gave me my start and my first teaching experience, so I firmly believe that I owe them pretty much everything and I am just thrilled that I get the chance to help the university. And hopefully that passion comes across with the students and faculty and others, because it is a fantastic law school and I couldn’t be happier.”

Phillipson’s association with the U of S College of Law began in 1989 when he first came to Canada as a graduate student. So how did a young man from northern England find his way to the Paris of the Prairies?

“It’s an interesting story,” he said. “We had a high school geography teacher who was obsessed with the Canadian Prairies and we studied Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so I knew where it was. And then my (course) advisor said we sent a guy to do a grad degree in Saskatchewan and he just raved about the place. So I applied and the U of S came up with a generous scholarship for me and I haven’t looked back since.”

Phillipson grew up in the historic English city of Newcastle—home of beloved British soccer star Alan Shearer—where his love of the beautiful game began at an early age and continues to this day.

“In England it’s genetic. I think I started playing soccer when I was four, so it has been 44 years,” he said.

“I still play on a men’s masters team in town. We are old and slow and a little rounder these days, but it is still fun and still a game that I love.”

Newcastle is also home to the likes of noted musicians Sting, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, fostering Phillipson’s early fascination with rock and roll and playing the drums. Hearing Canadian classic rock legends Rush play The Spirit of Radio—on the radio, of course—37 years ago also began a lifelong fascination with his favourite band that he has seen play live 17 times on both sides of the ocean.

“They were the perfect combination of rock and musical talent and complexity and intelligent lyrics,” he said. “What I really admire the most is they have never compromised. They just play the music that they want to play. They stayed true to their principles and never followed fashion or anything and just worked really hard … and those are all things law students can learn from.”

From Australia to New Zealand to Canada—including a faculty position at historic Osgoode Hall in Toronto before returning to Saskatoon—Phillipson has taught at some of the most prestigious law schools in the world. But make no mistake, it’s family first for Phillipson— spending time with his wife and three children—and he has always made sure to balance his love for law with a wide variety of outside interests.

“Law school is very intense and it is high pressure and you need to have those healthy outlets and those outside passions that put it all in perspective,” said Phillipson, a published author and media commentator, as well as an internationally published researcher in the areas of intellectual property law, biotechnology law and international environmental law. “Law school is very important, but it doesn’t define you. And your success or difficulties in that pursuit doesn’t define you, either. It’s those other communities and interests that you engage in that are what keep you vital and balanced.”

For Phillipson, that includes sports, from soccer to baseball to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “I love the Riders because I first arrived in 1989 (when Saskatchewan won its second Grey Cup) so I got hooked on football,” he said. “And my third child was born on November the 25th of 2007, the day the Roughriders won the Grey Cup again. So that’s another day I will never forget. Sitting in RUH (Royal University Hospital) with the Roughriders celebrating the Grey Cup on TV, my baby in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other!”

But it’s not all sports, all the time, for Phillipson. His love of music—from playing his favourite Rush albums to working with the executive of the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra—is matched by his appetite for creating new culinary delights in the kitchen and his fondness for finding new wines, from Portuguese and Greek to uniquely Canadian grape varieties.

Phillipson is also happy to volunteer his time to help with his kids’ school programs and serve as president of his master’s men’s soccer club, and relishes relaxing with a classic movie featuring the likes of legends Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

For Phillipson, work-life balance is truly a way of life and a lesson he hopes to pass on to his students, to see them succeed in both their professional and personal lives.

“Obviously work is very, very important and I am always prepared to put in the hours, but life is about a whole variety of things,” he said.

“It’s about friends and family and food and your passions and you’ve got to make sure to pursue your job with the same passion that you apply to other things. I am a firm believer that life is to be enjoyed and it’s these extra pursuits that make you a more rounded person and it’s a way of escaping from the pressures and stresses of everyday life. Life is meant to be lived.”

On that, the case is most certainly closed.

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