50 for 50 Spotlight: Chalak Richards (JD '12)
"Pepperdine Caruso Law is a leader in many spaces in the legal world, and I want us to be a true leader in the areas of diversity by making the law a place for all to belong."
For Chalak Richards (JD '12), success comes in more forms than numbers and rankings. Success, she describes, is seeing Caruso Law students and alumni find their place in the legal community. Success is moral excellence. For some, success is a precise position. For others, it's a path. But for all, Chalak says, "it's the spark of purpose."
As Assistant Dean in the Career Development Office (CDO), Richards supports JD students and alumni in the pursuit of meaningful legal employment. She oversees a team that provides career programming and individualized employment services. These services do not end at graduation; CDO prides itself on lifetime career services to our alumni. Richards helps develop and maintain relationships with alumni and employers in order to foster future opportunities for students. Additionally, Richards is Co-Director of the Parris Institute for Professional Excellence at Caruso Law.
This fall, Richards will transition into a new role as Assistant Dean of Student Life, Diversity, and Belonging where she will strengthen partnerships with Caruso Law alumni and the broader legal community. In this role, she will also address pipeline issues for historically underrepresented communities, provide mentorship and support for our current students, and build a closer community among our alumni. "My overarching goal," she explains, "is to help all members of the Caruso Law family know that this is a home for them. No student or alumnus is a guest in the law - all belong here and all represent us well. I seek to increase our awareness and diversity across all levels, building on the successes of Diversity Week, our admissions office, and the Dean's Speaker Series."
This week we turn the spotlight on Richards, a leader in her own right, whose engagement with students and commitment to empowering others has helped to shape the success of this legal institution. And she does it with grace, style, and a secret stash of high heels kept in her office!
What steered you into the legal field? More specifically, what led you to Pepperdine?
I worked as an urban missionary with children in high-risk neighborhoods for two years before entering law school. I came to law school to provide support for those kids, to be in a place to amplify their voices and help them to matter in a different way. I wanted them to see that someone who looked like them and came from an immigrant family very similar to theirs could accomplish this great thing. I chose Pepperdine as a law school because it was a place where I felt valued, and that my purpose would be affirmed.
How does your career with CDO compare to your career in practice? What's one story from your time in immigration law that you will never forget?
Being in practice was an incomparable experience. I loved practicing law and only left for the opportunity to work with Pepperdine. There are so many moments that mattered to me, but one that stands out is winning a case on appeal that many thought impossible. Being able to get my client released from immigration custody after more than a year and seeing him go home to his family - watching his children hug him and then attending his wedding - that meant everything to me. Seeing that my work mattered to this family on such an intimate and immediate level, and hearing them thank me at their wedding for allowing them to have that moment, validated my purpose as helping people to find their best places and be their best selves.
How did a Christian legal education influence your professional trajectory?
The Bible says that justice and righteousness are the foundations of God's throne. Jesus is called our advocate before the Father. Scripture repeatedly uses legal analogies to describe our salvation. To me, the law is supposed to be rooted in the foundations and mores of Christian faith: while all that we do has consequences, the grace and mercy of God act to free us from those consequences. Christian legal education isn't just about making people act the way that we want or forcing a certain moral code/ethos on society; it's meant to develop lawyers who walk out faith with the highest personal ethics and professional mores. It's meant to make us "wise as serpents and harmless as doves," so we are wise in how we interact with the systems and laws, wise in our analysis and as smart as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in how we work, but harmless in how we impact others. We are to leave others better, systems better, justice stronger - to me, that is what a Christian legal education is supposed to produce.
Is there someone who played a mentor role for you while studying at Pepperdine?
I'm privileged to be able to work with many of my mentors now! Dean Goodno (Prof. Goodno then), Dean Perrin (now Vice-President Perrin), Prof. Caldwell, Professor Boliek, and Professor Goodman were instrumental in my education at Pepperdine. They encouraged me, pushed me, and now that I am back, provide me with unfailing support.
What do you hope to see for the next fifty years of Pepperdine Caruso Law school?
I hope that we are a school that is a leader in ethics, mores, and thoughts. I hope that we are not just academically excellent with increasing jobs, LSAT/GPA, etc. I hope that we are a morally excellent institution that produces lawyers who don't just say they are here to change the world, but actually do so by working smarter and with integrity, thoughtfully speaking truth in love to places of power, and living lives of mercy and justice to the broken and powerless.
Chalak leaves us with this thought: "I hope that we are a place that heals individuals, communities, and even nations through our commitment to practicing law in a way that honors God and others."