Vanessa Johnson

Vanessa Johnson graduated from Allard School of Law with a concentration in business law in 2014. She reflects on why she left a career in music to pursue her passion for business law, her experiences as a student at Allard School of Law, and the similarities between business law in practice as well as a career in music. 


Did you always know you wanted to study law?

No, not at all. There was a brief passing moment in the ninth grade, but then I discovered I had a talent for music, so I did that instead. I did band and choir, and went on to complete a BA in music and English literature. My intention was to become a high school music teacher, with some performing on the side.

It wasn’t until after university that I found law again. I got a “day job” working for a legal consulting firm, which allowed me to work with a lot of firms in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. This experience provided me with insight into what working at a law firm might be like and what being a lawyer might entail. In particular, I was attracted to business law because it seemed to move at a fast pace, was to provide an opportunity for intellectual development and have a combination of interacting with people and working on your own.

That was why I decided to go to law school. In my first year, I went to the Centre for Business Law events and made a point of networking with women lawyers. I met a number of wonderful female lawyers, which helped me see myself doing this for the long term.

Would you say you are passionate about business law?

Oh yes! I feel that it is something that will be intellectually demanding for a long time, and I enjoy the problem solving that’s involved, and the teamwork aspect of it. It only works if everyone works together and contributes their own unique perspectives, expertise and experience. The pace and process that comes with working on a transaction, especially the adrenaline rush as it moves toward closing, is certainly a draw for me. Although, as an articling student, I obviously  have quite limited experience.

What did you enjoy most about your time at UBC Law?

I believe the professors are top-notch. They’re fantastic—very knowledgeable, very passionate about their students and their teaching. I was surprised about how much they care; they were always happy to meet with students outside the classroom to discuss ideas and provide support. The Centre for Business Law and the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies both do a fantastic job of bringing in guest lecturers. Being taught by practitioners as well as academics in the upper-year courses was very advantageous and provided invaluable access to their expertise and insight into the practice of law.

I particularly appreciated the many efforts that the Centre for Business Law made to bridge the gap between academic and business and legal landscapes. There were a lot of opportunities to engage in the “outside world” beyond the classroom. The Business Law Capstone course, which is offered by the Centre for Business Law, provided interaction with people from the business community (not just lawyers) who had different perspectives and concerns that need to be factored in and taken into account when working in this field—issues that were not always an obvious part of our thinking as lawyers. That was very valuable training.

I’m extremely happy I did the business law concentration. It has provided me with an excellent foundation and springboard for my future career.

How do you feel leaving music for a career in law? 

I’m really happy about it. Trying to do music as a day job is hard work. Really hard work. I mean, so is business law. But with music, the stakes are so high, and they are with business law too, but because my hobby became my job, I think that it stopped being fun and I ended up taking myself too seriously. But in business law I can earn a living and still have fun and enjoy what I’m doing. And anyway, I see music and business law as very similar.

How are they similar?

I find that they both use a lot of the same parts of the brain. I think that it can be easy in law to get into linear-type thinking. Music helps you to think creatively, so you can think about other possibilities. Then I try to apply that kind of thinking to law.

Music is very precise and very detail-oriented, and I find law is very similar. And in both fields if you’re off by just a little but, it can affect the whole thing. If you’re the one person in the choir who is singing off key or you miss your entrance, you can mess up the whole thing. The same is true of working on a transaction—you have to be able to hold your part. I also enjoy the sense of success that comes with working in law—doing a good job, whether it’s for another lawyer or a client. It’s like the feeling after a great performance when you know you’ve given it your all and done your best. It’s a great feeling.