“Legal education gives you a very strong approach to understanding how our society is structured. And that knowledge is very powerful and you don’t have to be confined to pursuing a career as a lawyer.” – David Masuhara, Supreme Court Justice, Class of 1982
David Masuhara grew up in the environs of Vancouver, where the proximity of the University of British Columbia determined for him where he would attend school. He was the first generation of his family to attend university, and obtained a Commerce degree and then an LL.B. from UBC in 1982. He recognized that both programs were rigorous, but that “in difficult times you learn that your experience is that you always just got through them.”
During his time in law school, Justice Masuhara edited with the UBC Law Review. At the time the Law Review had a tradition of an annual banquet, which he recalls “was called the Waysgoose…an old English term for going on a wild picnic.” He also remembers taking Evidence with Professor McLachlin, and how he was at UBC when she received her first appointment to the County Court of Vancouver. He graduated in 1982, when the entire Canadian legal landscape was changing with the introduction of the Charter. In that context he realized “there would be a lot more to think about the future in terms of what Canadian society would look like.”
After graduation David Masuhara articled with Braidwood, Nuttal, Mackenzie, Brewer, Greyell and Stephenson before joining Inland Natural Gas in-house. It was here he relied upon his commerce degree to inform his work as a legal officer. His understanding of the economics of the natural gas business was an asset in duties ranging from developing the regulatory structure for natural gas pricing to negotiating a labour agreement to end the company’s first strike. Justice Masuhara enjoyed his work and stayed with the company as it grew and became Terasen Gas, where he was vice-president, legal and regulatory affairs.
In 2002, David Masuhara accepted a call to the bench and joined the Supreme Court of British Columbia. He remarks that there were several benefits to his appointment, including his ability to bring a different perspective to the bench as someone with a unique legal career. He also believes that being the first Japanese-Canadian appointed to a superior court in British Columbia was significant in affirming that members of that community were welcome in senior roles in BC society.
Considering his first trial, Justice Masuhara recalls that “two lawyers came in and I thought it was kinda humourous, they didn’t know who I was…they both agreed that ‘probably we don’t know who this judge is and we’re not going to take a chance here.’” The two lawyers then presented him a consent settlement, avoiding any uncertainty of how Justice Masuhara would rule. In his time on the court, Justice Masuhara recognizes that the use of technology has grown in courts. He believes this is because as new justices are appointed they are more familiar with technology adopt it in their courts.
Mr. Justice David Masuhara’s advice to those considering or pursuing a legal career today is not get stuck believing a legal education means becoming a lawyer. “Keep your eyes open to all the opportunities,” he says, “not everyone is made to be a lawyer, but they can be a great contributor to society using their legal education.”