After earning her undergraduate degree in English and French Literature at UBC, Anna Fung, QC said she was not quite ready to leave school. But while her decision to attend the Peter A. Allard School of Law might have started as a pragmatic step to remain in the university environment, it has led to a distinguished career in law.
Fung, who graduated in the class of 1984, said law school was a meaningful experience both personally and academically. As a student, she made connections that have lasted since she left school more than 35 years ago, including meeting her best friend, who had a locker next to hers in their first year.
“We got to know each other, and then we ended up clerking together and also articling together,” she said. “I’ve known her since 1981.”
Fung said her fondest memories include the Trike Race and a feminist theory of the law class taught by Professor J.C. Smith, whose lecturing style she described as “almost like a sermon.”
“I loved law school because it’s so different from a Bachelor of Arts degree,” Fung said. “Everything was new to me, including the people that you meet because law school kind of draws from a cross-section of people who’ve had undergraduate degrees, for instance, in commerce, from the arts faculty, from engineering—you name it.”
Before articling at Davis & Company (now DLA Piper LLP), Fung served as a law clerk for three justices in the BC Court of Appeal, an experience she said had a profound effect on her understanding of the judicial system.
“It was an amazing experience because it did show me that judges, despite the power that they presumably have over litigants, are actually just human beings trying to do the best they can and coming up with the right results based on the law when they adjudicate disputes before them,” Fung said.
“That’s a good thing to learn because you learn not to be afraid of judges, you learn that they are actually trying to do the best they can, sometimes under very difficult circumstances, and that, I think, is reassuring for anybody who wants to practice law.”
Despite her initial intention to pursue a career as a litigator, Fung was kept on as a solicitor at Davis & Company but was given some litigation opportunities in Aboriginal rights and title cases, including R v Sparrow.
Fung said this combined experience helped her land a position as Senior Counsel at BC Gas (now FortisBC) in 1993.
“As in-house counsel, they wanted someone who was capable of doing both,” she said. “In particular, my boss at the time wanted me to take on the regulatory hearings and be able to appear before the National Energy Board and the B.C. Utilities Commission as counsel as well as doing the solicitor’s work that all companies have … That flexibility is incredible if you’re able to do it.”
After 15 years at BC Gas, Fung moved to destination resorts developer and operator Intrawest, where she was recruited by her former boss at BC Gas who had taken over as head of the company’s legal department. From 2012 to 2014, she served as Vice President, Legal and General Counsel at TimberWest Forest Corp. before moving to her current position at the British Columbia Utilities Commission. Fung was recognized with the Queen’s Counsel designation in 2000.
Despite starting her career at large law firms, Fung said this transition to in-house positions was a way of establishing the work-life balance she was seeking.
“Like most students, you start out thinking, ‘I have to article at a big firm so I can get the good experience and good training,’ which is all true, but you realize that the private practice of law can be a grind. It’s very stressful. It demands a lot of your time and your energy, and I think eventually, some of us kind of decide that there has to be a better way—a better balance between work and life and your friends and family, so that’s why I decided to go in-house by taking a job at BC Gas,”
In addition to her accomplishments as a practising lawyer, Fung has remained involved in legal education, including as a director of the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC and other professional and non-profit organizations.
“I think maybe it’s my parents who instilled in me the value of education because they were teachers,” she said. “It taught me that education is power. Knowledge is power, and it allows you to, frankly, be open-minded if you have a curiosity in learning,” she said. “I think that’s part of the emphasis that I’ve placed in my life on trying to educate people about things, so they learn to be balanced, they learn to think critically about things and to seek knowledge, all with the goal of hopefully trying to make our world a better place, and that’s what I see the main role of education is.”
This passion for education has also kept her involved with her alma mater, most notably as one of the original members of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the Centre for Business Law.
“[Dean Mary Anne Bobinski] had this vision that we should be giving some air time and some better experience in business law to people who may interested in practicing it when they leave law school, so she approached me to join the council of lawyers to basically think about a type of program that we could offer students who may be interested in practicing as a solicitor,” Fung said.
“I think it’s important … for law schools to always be looking beyond what the current curriculum is and think about new things that they can offer students—more choice in what courses they can take and the type of experiential learning that I think is becoming more prevalent nowadays.”
Yet another facet of Fung’s varied career has been her involvement in regulating the profession and representing the needs of legal practitioners. Fung has served as both the President of the Law Society of British Columbia and National Director of the Canadian Bar Association.
“Having served on both, I think each of them has its uses,” she said. “What I would say you learn from serving on either one of them is just that, overall, the legal profession is highly varied and, at the same time, it’s actually very collegial. I think most lawyers are actually very good, ethical, professional people who are trying to, by and large, advance their clients’ interest as opposed to their own.”
Despite the rigours of legal practice, Fung has few regrets about the career path she chose.
“I get paid to think every minute of the day … and to problem-solve and to help people with their legal problems, for those who cannot navigate the legal system on their own,” she said.