Tim Louis

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Boundary Bay, next to Tsawwassen. My family moved there when I was about 9. I lived there until I was 17. As soon high school was over, it was leave home, move into Vancouver and move outta home.

Did you have any part-time jobs growing up, or as a student?
As a student in high school student, I only had one summer job. But as soon as I moved outta home at 17, I had lots of part-time jobs. One summer I had two full-time jobs. First summer job was a volunteer survey, folks that had been from jail or rehab centre. I probably helped with results in the fall like 76. I was on the Vancouver Park Board, doing a survey of architectural accessibility for people with disabilities. But beyond that there may have been summer jobs, I guess one summer working for Stats Canada. Other summer working for the Vancouver Resource Centre, working with disabilities. One summer, I was working for both of them. So I would work an eight hour day at one job and a four hour evening job, so I was working 12 hours a day. Lots of different jobs! It was great, I loved it. A part-time job doesn’t do much more than put food on your table.

Why did you choose to study law?
Well, when I first moved outta home at 17, there was no HandyDart. A small bus service for folks that have disabilities. There was sort of a pre-cursor to HandyDart, a very low level service, it wasn’t properly funded and it was operated by a charity. So together with a bunch of folks and lobbying up at City Hall. There was one City Councillor, who we assumed had more control over the others was very bright and he was very supportive of the community. His name was Hert Ragen. He was a lawyer so he politicized, right, but he also I think probably was the designing factor in him deciding that we not do it alone. He then wrote a letter of support telling all of the schools at UBC and then he hired me as an articling student.

How did you find out about UBC Law School?
I have no idea; it was the only one that I applied to. I lived in Vancouver, it made sense.

What were some of your first impressions about UBC?
Pre-law school, I did two years of undergrad at Langara College. My third year undergrad that would have been at UBC. I did my third year of undergrad at UBC, before Law School and it’s an incredibly beautiful campus. The weather is nice. It’s quite a large campus. Very different from Langara which was overcrowded, they only built the one building. UBC is spread out over many buildings, lots of activity and students. Lots of politics! I did three years of undergrad in Political Science.

What was your law school curriculum like in 1983?
Well, I guess in first year, I’m guess it is probably similar to what it is now. Three Cs: Criminal, Contracts and Constitutional, Property and Torts. Contracts, I still remember most of the professors that year, Beverly McLachlin. She’s now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. There was no opportunity to take courses other than foundational. Second and third years are a bit of a blur, I don’t recall that much. Creditor’s remedies.

What interested you most as a student?
Probably not very much. I was very active out in the community. I was running for the Board in Van City every year till eventually I got elected in 1985. During law school, I was running every year and by then I was running for the Park Board with the political party. In those days, the Park Board was elected every two years. Outside law school, probably not a good student in class as I should have been.

Did those interests outside of law school carry through to your legal practice?
Very much so, yes.

Why did you choose to start your own practice after law school?
I wanted the freedom; I really wanted to be able to take on cases that offered legal services to people. Whether it made financial sense or not, I knew that I could be very frugal with my own overhead, when I first set up my practice, my rent was $90 a month. It was a very tiny windowless office; I had no clients and no files, no furniture, no line of credit. I had the freedom to act for whoever I wanted to. Not nearly as frugal but I do take on a lot of cases, a dozen or 20.

What was the workload like when you started?
First, it was very light; I just waited for the phone to ring. It became a very busy practice very quickly.

Did you feel that law school was a good experience for your current practice?
I don’t think so. In law school, you learn all of the theory but you don’t learn how to practice. Since I graduated in ’83, the Bar Admission program, now PLTC does what law school does not do. It gives you a lot of practical experience, knowledge. It tells you how to practice. For example, in my three years of law school and my one year of articling, I don’t remember that I ever for once saw a will. In my practice, I had to draft a will and thought, what is it. I had no idea what a will of cost was. Law school is great at teaching you archaic law (cases that were decided hundreds of years ago) but it does not teach you how to practice law.

How has you community service experience shaped your legal practice?
Profoundly. It has helped me become a more practical lawyer.

What was different between your practice then and now?
Perhaps ’84, organized confusion. No system, no checklists, no bring-forward system. I was flying by the seat of my pants, it was a disaster. Today, everything as a place, everything organized right down to the minute. First thing in the morning, my computer gives me a list of tasks to get done that day and I tick it off. If I forget, it quietly comes on tomorrow’s list. Technology has hugely improved productivity, in transit, email. We can import through technology. If I were I client, in ’83, I don’t think I would have hired me.
What would you say are the issues or concerns that have been consistently important to you throughout your career?
I guess the practice of the law becomes more and more difficult for the consumer to access because of the cost of law. We have a legal system rather than a justice system. It’s difficult for the quintessential small person to go up against an insurance company and get justice, even with a team of people in a law firm.

What are the changes in the legal profession that you have noticed throughout your legal career?
Technology, 1984 we didn’t have computers. We didn’t have cellphones. We didn’t have laptops or iPads. Technology has made us even to offer legal services much more efficiently and much less error.

What would you say is the biggest accomplishment of your career so far? What are you most proud of?
Nothing really stands out. Maybe the law practice beginning in 1984, the City Council in ’99. To some degree, the Supreme Court and other things. The law to be active in the community, addressing different community issues. To be able to offer lots of free legal services. I don’t need to be in a downtown law firm and charge an arm and a leg for summary advice.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share for law students who might be listening to this interview?
Definitely find a lawyer, find a law practice, if they would permit you to hang out, not just for a day but maybe a week. The practice of law is different in the mind of person going into law, than the person who is in the law. The law practice is largely shaped by what a person sees on T.V. which is a complete misconception of law and the reality of law, even for a busy partner or lawyer, a small percentage of time in court and most of it boring in the law practice. The day-to-day running of a law firm is not exciting but it is not what people think it is. My advice would be, before you go into law or law school, find a lawyer and hang out in the law firm so that you can get a feel for it.