Professor Leach retires after inspiring generations of advocates

A man points in a courtroom

Professor Thomas J. Leach retired in Dec. 2021 after a 26-year teaching career. Leach is pictured next to his wife and colleague, Cary Bricker, in 2021.

Professor Thomas J. Leach’s classes are the stuff of legend on the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law campus. Everything from his hearsay boxes, decades-old case memorabilia, and pre-final office hours.

Director of Academic and Student Affairs Selena Farnesi, ’15, recalls the experience of being a student in Leach’s class.

“If you got to class early, you would see him going through documents or setting up exhibits for class with a bowtie untied under his collar,” she said. “Just before class began, he would turn his back, tie the bowtie, and we all knew to shut up and sit down. Class was about to begin!”

Now, after a remarkable 26-year teaching career, Leach is embracing a well-earned retirement.

During his tenure at McGeorge School of Law, Leach had the unique joy teaching alongside his wife, Noël Ferris Professor of Trial Skills Cary Bricker. Together, the couple built the McGeorge Trial Advocacy Program into a nationally ranked program that produces over 200 capable trial attorneys each year.

“A lot of the conversations at our dinner table have been about trial skills and evidence,” Leach remarked.

U.S. News & World Report ranked the school’s trial advocacy program No. 8 in the nation in its 2021 Best Graduate Schools guide. The program is also one of only 11 in the country to receive an A+ rating from preLaw Magazine. Leach and Bricker also created more opportunities for aspiring trial attorneys, by establishing the Trial and Appellate Advocacy Certificate of Concentration, alongside Professor Ed Telfeyan.

A black and white photo of a man in a suit

Professor Leach retired in Dec. 2021 after a 26-year teaching career. Leach is pictured in 1996.

Throughout his career, Leach has continually emphasized to students how critical ethics are as an advocate. His establishment and hosting of the National Trial Ethics Competition has made a positive impact on McGeorge’s reputation both locally and nationally (in fact, internationally – two judges in the 2021 event were barristers Zooming in from London).

Leach has a B.A. from Cornell University, a M.A.T. from Wesleyan University, and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. After law school, he served a two-year clerkship with the Hon. Edmund Spaeth of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Leach feels that he was always meant to be in the classroom. A talented trial attorney and partner at the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath early in his career, Leach found his passion teaching trial skills to young attorneys.

 “I began by teaching the skills classes in my firm and then at programs of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. As trials for senior-level partners were becoming rarer, and because my best skills lay in courtroom work or in teaching those skills, I felt it best to make the career switch to full-time teaching.”

Leach enjoys the challenge of helping students to grasp complex topics.

“The primary reward of teaching is when you see a look on a student’s face that says ‘oh.’ It is tremendously satisfying when we find a way to communicate with each other to bridge a gap in understanding,” Leach said.

At McGeorge, Leach taught a variety of classes in the Trial Advocacy Program, including Evidence, Trial Advocacy and Advanced Trial Advocacy, as well as Persuasive Public Speaking, which is a course he designed.

Leach’s scholarly interests were focused on evidence, advocacy in comparative perspective, and the teaching of advocacy. Throughout his career, he was a frequent lecturer for programs sponsored by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and he also did hands-on teaching at law programs in China, Russia, Chile, Northern Ireland, and Italy.

His legacy as a professor is reflected in the accomplishments of his students. Farnesi’s time in each of his classes provided her with the foundation to become an accomplished Deputy District Attorney in Fresno County.

“Professor Leach taught me how important the way you present a question or argument can be; how the same exact words said in a different way can make a huge difference,” Farnesi said. “He had a presence in the classroom that I constantly tried to imitate in the courtroom.”

Two men in suits hold a trophy

Professor Leach poses for a photo with David Norton, '13, who won the Student Trial Advocate of the Year award from the American Board of Trial Advocates in 2013.

Third-year law student Aya Aldairi learned to be a selfless advocate through Leach’s no-nonsense approach to Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and his instruction on eliminating “I” from an advocate’s vocabulary.

“Professor Leach taught me that I don’t matter — no one cares what I think, feel, or want as an advocate. When we step into the courtroom well, our personal feelings no longer matter. Our wants and needs have no place in the courtroom,” Aldairi said. “At the end of the day, I don’t matter — what my client needs, feels, or thinks does.” 

Leach made an indelible impact on Mock Trial Coach Byron Roope, ’08, who has his own, local criminal defense firm.

“People use the term living legend far too easily. But there is no other term for Leach that is more appropriate,” Roope said. “Any attorney that has ever had Leach has a memory, a story, and a funny quip that has shaped their career.

 “His ability to focus his students to the core of the issue, and make sure they never forget it, is unparalleled. His teaching, his mind, and his friendship forever changed my career and my life,” Roope said.

Those who know Leach will not be surprised that intends to remain very active during retirement. In fact, he has already been a substitute professor for the Trial Advocacy class — much to the delight of his former students. Leach looks forward to golfing, traveling, volunteering to teach English as a Second Language, and spending more time with Bricker when she retires at the end of this school year.

“The generations of lawyers before and after me were forever changed by knowing and learning from him,” Roope reflects.

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