Daniel J. Song, K.C.

Class of 2005-2006

“What’s the purpose of being an advocate if it’s not to effect change?”

Daniel J. Song, KC is a Korean-Canadian criminal defence lawyer practicing in Alberta and British Columbia. He has extensive experience as criminal appellate counsel, including at the Supreme Court of Canada. Daniel has made many contributions to the legal community including authoring papers and presenting at seminars for the Legal Education Society of Alberta, the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia and the Provincial Court of British Columbia. He has also volunteered with the Allan McEachern Course in Trial Advocacy, Gale Cup Moot and UBC Innocence Project at the Peter A. Allard School of Law. Daniel was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2022. Daniel holds a black belt in Taekwondo and trains in Iaido, the art of drawing the Japanese sword.

Daniel’s legal career can be traced back to his grandfather. When Daniel was born, his grandfather gave him his Korean name, Jae-Yul, which contains the Chinese character for “law” (). His grandfather grew up in poverty in South Korea and believed that a lawyer could bring honour and financial stability to their family. “Although my parents never pressured me to become a lawyer, I was told that family story as a young child, and it stuck,” explains Daniel.

Daniel’s sense of justice was inspired by his parents. Daniel says that when his parents moved to Canada, “they struggled to make ends meet, as is often the case with many immigrants.” His father worked tirelessly as an auto-mechanic and his mother stayed home to raise the children until they were old enough for her to operate various small businesses over the years. Daniel remembers his parents frequently feeling despondent, being unable to afford lawyers to assist them in business disputes with wealthier and more privileged individuals: “My father was always a stubborn man of principle. Even without the financial resources to access justice in the courts, he strongly believed that truth and fairness would always prevail. But time and again, the reality was that I watched my parents being exploited by those with power. And that was unquestionably a formative experience for me.”  

Before applying to Allard Law, Daniel’s academic career began in Toronto where he enrolled in the Aerospace Engineering program at the University of Toronto. After two years in the program, Daniel realized he didn’t want to be an engineer and chose to study English Literature at UBC – a somewhat unexpected turn of events. “English was my worst subject in high school — not because I couldn’t excel at it, but because at the time I simply had no interest in reading about old, dead, mostly British men,” Daniel notes. That changed at UBC, where he began to appreciate and value literature, “be it canonical, Victorian or post-colonial.”

Daniel says that reading 25 novels each semester and writing numerous essays during his undergraduate degree were instrumental in developing his written advocacy. He points out that law students don’t need to write like the common-law judgments they read in class. “They need only be themselves and project a tone of authenticity to be persuasive […] and that authenticity should ultimately guide the trajectory of their careers.”

Daniel has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada more than a dozen times. His first appearance at the Supreme Court was an application for leave to appeal before three justices. He was the only lawyer in the courtroom, given that the Crown chose to appear by video.

The Crown submitted that “appellate courts were hot courts” – which was to say that appeal judges arrived at hearings having already read the parties’ arguments in advance. Daniel recalls witnessing Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin leaning over to Justice Rosalie Abella “with a glint in her eye,” and whispering, “He called us a hot court!” Daniel was granted leave to appeal, but the highlight of the experience was “overhearing that moment of levity in the courtroom.” He says that it calmed his nerves during the hearing.

When asked what he sees as his greatest professional achievement to date, Daniel says, “I’m just getting started.” But he sees it as an achievement to have remained healthy and strong enough to honour and give back to his parents for their lifetime of sacrifice.

Daniel previously published an article titled “An Asian lawyer’s experience with racism” in the Lawyer’s Daily, speaking to the effects of entrenched stereotypes that impact Asian-Canadian lawyers. “I’m heartened to see more Asian lawyers entering the criminal bar,” says Daniel. “But when I started, there were no senior Asian criminal defence lawyers I could look to as role models.” He notes that although more than half of the population in Metro Vancouver identifies as visible minorities, that same level of diversity is not typically present in any given Vancouver courtroom.

But he believes this is changing. Daniel reminds those considering a career in criminal law that the bar needs more “diversity of thought, voices, and perspectives that will help shape the law in ways that will properly reflect the pluralistic values of this country.”

In May 2022, Daniel was appointed Queen’s Counsel – which he describes as an ever-present reminder of his responsibility to exceed expectations. “Other aspiring Asian lawyers may be watching,” he says. “I want them to see a lawyer who leads through the quality of his advocacy, a lawyer who is singularly committed to his craft, and a lawyer whose word the judges trust. They can be that lawyer.”

When asked what advice he would offer to aspiring criminal lawyers, Daniel points out that a criminal defence lawyer is much more than a mouthpiece. “Every moment you stand in court, you can be impactful,” he says. “Words have the power to stand against injustice. And what’s the purpose of being an advocate if it’s not to effect change?"

In September 2023, Daniel was recognized as a Social Change Champion and one of Canadian Lawyer Magazine's Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers for his work in Human Rights, Advocacy, and Criminal Law.

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