My professional bio previously stated that I research and write about the doctrinal and theoretical dimensions of charity law. I doubt anyone understood what that meant. A personal anecdote about what inspired my interests in charity law seems more fitting.
I applied to law school in the winter of 1997. I remember feeling tentative at the time about the cost of tuition (notwithstanding that tuition fees were considerably lower then). In the spring of that year, I was notified by Osgoode Hall Law School that my law school tuition costs were going to be entirely covered (and then some) by a generous scholarship endowed by the late Justice William G.C. Howland.
This was a life changing experience that I will never forget. Though I was a virtual stranger to Justice Howland, he was nevertheless willing to invest – indeed generously invest – in me, someone with the ability but not the means to go to law school. I did not know it at the time but I had just encountered a charitable trust. The experience piqued my interest in the various ways in which the law promotes and enables the voluntary choice to share wealth with strangers.
In its legal sense, “charity” entails just that, funding the provision of certain goods and services to strangers. The law celebrates, and as it should, those who – like Justice Howland – make the choice to share with strangers. The diverse range of goods and services that the law recognizes as charitable includes but is not limited to Justice Howland’s scholarship. It also includes such diverse things as poverty relief, education, religion, human rights, environmental conservation, animal rights, the arts, health care and other like pursuits of “public benefit”.
As a law professor, I remain fascinated by the legal definition, regulation and promotion of charity. Voluntarily benefiting strangers through charitable trusts is one of the ultimate ways of acknowledging that people matter by virtue of their status as people and not simply because they are family or friends. I trace my interests in this area of law back to Justice Howland’s charitable trust.