New at the U: Meet Professor Matthew Tokson

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law welcomed two new professors on July 1.

Professors Matthew J. Tokson and Young Ran (Christine) Kim will bring new expertise to the law school’s outstanding faculty.

Tokson moved to Utah after most recently working as an assistant professor at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. Tokson was graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College and with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was the executive articles editor of the law review and was admitted to the Order of the Coif. He served as law clerk to the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg and to the Honorable David H. Souter of the United States Supreme Court. Previously, he served as law clerk to the Honorable A. Raymond Randolph of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Immediately prior to joining the Chase faculty, he was a senior litigation associate with WilmerHale, in Washington, D.C.

Tokson has served as a fellow at the University of Chicago, where he taught intellectual property law, privacy law, and criminal procedure. Tokson’s scholarship has previously been published in the Iowa Law Review and the William & Mary Law Review, and his two most recent articles will be published in the University of Chicago Law Review and the Northwestern University Law Review.

In an interview with the College of Law, Tokson shared his perspective about joining the U community. (Editor’s note: Kim will also be profiled at a later date).

Q: What drew you to the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law? 

A: I first got to know the College of Law through its criminal law professors.  Paul Cassell visited my former school, Chase College of Law, for a conference on the Fifth Amendment. I didn’t get to speak with him beyond saying hello but I was impressed by his work and the detail and care that had gone into his empirical studies.  A few months later, Shima Baradaran Baughman visited Chase to present her recent paper on prosecutors’ use of discretion.  The presentation was great, she was very nice, and she seemed to love Utah.  Those visits put Utah on my radar.  I did more research and spoke to a friend of mine who went to the University of Utah as an undergrad, and I came to realize how great Utah is. I’m really excited to join such an impressive faculty.  And I recently spent some time in Salt Lake City looking at real estate and I’m excited about the city and the natural beauty that surrounds it.

Q:  Describe your research expertise. 

A: I mainly write about Fourth Amendment search and seizure and concepts of privacy and surveillance more generally.  I recently published a paper on cell phone location tracking and how courts have failed to apply the Fourth Amendment to such tracking, based on erroneous conclusions about what people know about their privacy.  I’m currently working on a more theoretical piece, about what courts should do when formal sources of law (like text, history, precedent, etc.) offer very little guidance on a legal question.  I think this is relevant to the Fourth Amendment because there are aspects of Fourth Amendment law on which formal sources are basically silent.

Q:  You’ve had many interesting experiences along your path to now working at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, including working as law clerk to the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg and to the Honorable David H. Souter of the United States Supreme Court. What was one memorable lesson from that experience that you still carry with you today?

A: Well that experience transformed me as a legal writer.  And there were lots of other lessons.  Maybe the one most relevant to legal academia was that, if you work in a selective profession with relatively few colleagues, it’s important to your well-being to be able to get along with people you disagree with.  The Justices were always collegial even during the most contentious cases, I think because they knew there were only a handful of other people who could really relate to the unique challenges of their job.

Q:  With many interesting experiences in your portfolio, what is one of the most important pieces of career advice you received along the way? What advice do you give students on how to move forward to have a successful career after law school that you will incorporate into your teaching practices here?

A: I think the most important general advice I’ve received is to be persistent when it comes to seeking new opportunities.  I didn’t get a Supreme Court clerkship the first time I applied for one, and I know many people who got hired their third or fourth time applying.  If you don’t get a job or a promotion or what have you, that doesn’t necessarily reflect on you and it doesn’t mean that it’ll never happen.  There’s a lot of arbitrariness and luck out there, and the best way to deal with that is often just by giving yourself more than one chance to succeed.  As far as advice for law school that translates to the working world, I think it’s important in high-pressure situations especially to have a process that works for you and then to trust that process.  I found it helpful in law school to outline my courses pretty extensively, to take practice exams, etc. And I went through the same process for every class.  You might not always like the grade you get, you might be nervous about doing something in school or in a job, but if you have a process that you can trust, it’s easier to live with the outcome.

Q: Outside of work, what do you like to do?

A: I like to hike, although I don’t think the “hiking” I’ve done around Cincinnati or Washington DC is the same as hiking in Utah.  I’m going to have to train a little to keep up out here. I’ve recently been playing a lot of complex board games.  And then novels, food, wine, music of all kinds.