Remember those people who spent so much time at university you thought they should probably just set up camp? Well, Jim Taylor did. Student, professor and now citizen of the burgeoning University Town at UBC, Taylor is a resident of Hampton Court and chair of the University Neighbourhoods Association. The consummate lifelong student, Jim Taylor loves to learn: “I can remember us fussing over the issues and the sub-issues of [The Wagon Mound] case [in torts class] and how interesting it was, you know. I can literally remember not being able to wait to get back to class the next week to see where we’d go next.”
Teachers, doctors, social workers and ministers in Taylor’s family. No lawyers. No musicians either—different James Taylor. “I kind of missed the '60s as a participant. I didn’t like rock and roll music … although I became very fond of Elvis Presley as I got older. I’m one of these people who not only never inhaled marijuana, I never tried it.”
At 21, after three years in honours history at UBC, Taylor married, and entered law school without finishing his BA: “It was a very practical decision. I thought, gee, law would be neat, and I was starting to think of a vocation because I had married.” It was a challenging transition, but a natural one. “I found the cut and thrust of legal learning very comfortable,” he recalls. “The workload at the time was enormous. They used to say that in first year they scared you to death, in second year they worked you to death and in third year they bored you to death.”
The first-year strategy certainly didn’t work with Taylor. “I found it terribly rewarding, you know. I was being taught to think in a different way, to use my brain in a way I’d never been required to do.” As for the third-year strategy, he simply turned the tables: “I found that people started avoiding you at coffee parties because as a lawyer, when someone says, ‘Boy, it was a nice day today,’ the lawyer thinks about, well, ‘what’s a day’, ‘what’s nice’ and ‘what are you comparing it to’, and ‘what’s the data’, and ‘nice to whom’, and ‘nice where’. They’d sort of make some harmless statement and an hour later you’d still be asking them questions about it.”
Ever the student, Taylor was torn between graduate school, for which he’d been offered a fellowship, and going straight into practice. However, “you only like to remain broke for… you know, I wanted to have a vehicle that would actually start when I turned the key, right.” In the end, Taylor went to practise with LaCroix, Stewart, Siddall and Taylor, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.
In 1974, Taylor was recruited by UBC to teach in the law school. “Beverley McLachlin started teaching the same time I did,” he recalls. “We wrote a book together called British Columbia Practice.” Taylor was tenured in his third year, was made full professor soon after that, and considered once again taking his LL.M. “I remember one of the senior law professors in the law school … said, ‘That would be a very dim idea, Taylor. When you were promoted to full professor with only a bachelor’s degree, you entered an elite class of very few people who have been recognized purely on talent.’” So no LL.M.
Taylor was a Professor and then an Adjunct Professor with UBC Law from 1974 to 1989. “In some ways,” he muses, “teaching is harder than practising because you have an obligation to be right. When you’re practising, you only have an obligation to your client to persuade the other side or a judge you’re right. ”
Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Minister of Justice for the Province of Saskatchewan in 1985-86, and Partner with Blake, Cassels & Graydon from 1986 to 1995, Taylor is now a partner with Taylor Jordan Chafetz in Vancouver, specializing in commercial, corporate and employment litigation and arbitration. As chair of the University Neighbourhoods Association, he spends time raising funds for the university community. “I came from a family that didn’t have a lot of money,” he says. “I lived in basement suites going to university. Three nights a week, I stocked grocery shelves from midnight until seven in the morning. I was just one of many people who got their legal education by virtue of the fact that the public subsidizes it so much, and I’ll never be able to pay back the obligation I feel to my university for what it did for me. There’s no question taking law was the seminal aspect of my vocational life.”
Written by Diane Haynes and originally published in the UBC Law Alumni Magazine, Fall 2005.