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News Posted on May 28, 2013

Emeritus Profile: Professor Joel C. Dobris

Joel DobrisFor more than 30 years, Professor Joel C. Dobris was one of UC Davis School of Law's best and most beloved instructors, a leading authority in the field of trusts and estates law, and a fixture of the King Hall community who could always be counted on to participate in the annual Cardozorama talent show. Now, thanks to his grateful students, his legacy will live on following his retirement with the Joel Dobris Student Support Fund.

"I had a good run," Dobris said in a recent interview.  "I'm proud of the writing I was able to do, and I'm proudest that I was a good teacher. I worked really hard at it. I tried to make it funny, and to have fun, but I also tried to make sure the students understood that what we were talking about were real conflicts between real people-a fight over a boundary between neighbors, or a conflict over someone's inheritance-and I think that made it easier to understand."

A native of Albany, New York, Dobris earned his baccalaureate degree from Yale, went on to the University of Minnesota Law School, then practiced trusts and estates law for 10 years with a firm in New York City.  After the birth of his son, he wanted to move to a more family-friendly hometown, and without knowing much about Davis ("In my mind, it was located within sight of the ocean" he recalled), he applied to King Hall and joined the faculty in 1976.

Dobris claims he "wasn't a very good teacher" in those early days, but he improved rapidly.  He became a favorite among students, known for his demanding yet often humorous presentation, and was honored with the Law School's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1994. He also enjoyed considerable success as a scholar, co-authoring the highly regarded casebook Estates and Trusts and publishing numerous law review articles, including influential works on socially responsible investment.  As a law reformer, he helped to amend the Revised Uniform Principal and Income Act, which was adopted in nearly every state.  He is a member of the American Law Institute and an Academic Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

Many alumni remember Dobris most fondly for his participation in Cardozorama, the Law School's annual talent show (now renamed Aokirama in honor of the late Professor Keith Aoki). Over the years, he performed in countless skits, served as master of ceremonies, and even starred in a dance video put together by students using computerized special effects. "I was in it almost every year, and I really loved it," he said.  "I was always willing to have fun at my own expense, and that was the secret of my Cardozorama career."

Now retired from teaching, Dobris feels honored by the effort, led by Katy Orr '98 and her husband, David, to establish the Joel Dobris Student Support Fund, which will provide support for a deserving student who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the legal profession and King Hall. 

"Professor Dobris was an excellent teacher," said Katy Orr.  "He approached every subject with a sense of humor, which made the classes more interesting and engaging, as well as making it easier to retain the subject matter. My husband and I wanted to establish the fund to celebrate the career of a great teacher, as well as to honor his other contributions to the King Hall community. "

Alumni and friends who are interested in honoring Professor Dobris with a gift to the scholarship fund may contact Jean Korinke, Assistant Dean of Development and Alumni Relations, at