David Wotherspoon (LLB '91) is a partner at Dentons and lead of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution group in Vancouver. In 2013, he took on a pro bono case, representing homeless people who had set up an encampment on city-owned land in Abbotsford. In a half-day injunction that turned into a six-week trial, David succeeded in advancing the Charter rights of homeless people.
What drove you to pursue law school? Did you always want to go into law?
I actually didn’t plan on going to law school at all and followed a very indirect path to eventually get there. Along the way, I took jobs as a taxi driver, a truck driver and a news photographer to pay my way through school. After doing an MA in Psychology, I decided I needed to consider a ‘real job’ and applied to law school. I vividly remember my first day at law school, right around the time of the Meech Lake Accord negotiations. We had a lecture on constitutional law, and as someone who had a spent many hours in the newsroom immersed in current events, this new legal lens offered a fascinating new perspective on everything going on. It was exciting! I’m so glad I pursued law. Law is a great career. You get to work with smart, interesting people, it allows for constant learning opportunities, and it is a great way to be engaged in society.
If you could go back and give your law student-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
The advice I would give to my law student-self is the same advice I currently give to young people considering law school, students in law school and young lawyers. I offer the metaphor of a river running through law school with a very strong current, pushing you toward a large, traditional downtown firm in the big city. Swim to the shore, grab on to a tree branch or a rock, climb out of the river, and take a moment to look around. A degree in law provides for many great options. Then make an intentional decision about what YOU want to do. I’m at a big firm in a medium-sized city, which was an intentional choice. I’m very happy with where I chose to be. The most important thing is to find the right fit for who you are and what you want to do in life.
What is your favorite memory of law school or what did you enjoy most about your time at law school?
The people! I am still friends with many of the people I met on that first day of law school. That, and all of the free time I had to keep fit doing triathlons!
You are currently the lead of Dentons’ Litigation and Dispute Resolution group. What drew you to this specific area of the law?
Most of my career has been in commercial litigation, which I enjoy because I find it very challenging. Commercial litigation has many moving pieces, and every dispute is different, with its own legal issues and factual scenarios. I really enjoy developing strategy. Within the first five years of my practice, I began to focus on technology and intellectual property law. I started practicing internet law in 1998, when the public facing Internet was in its infancy. At the time, I thought cases relating to the internet could be solved using traditional laws (with the exception of jurisdiction), but clearly that has not been the case. So much has changed in 20 years!
You have a great deal of experience advising on a variety of issues, is there a particular case you found most interesting to work on and why?
Over the course of my career, I have worked on so many interesting cases. One of the recent (and precedent-setting) cases was Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc. This case involved Equustek demanding that Google deindex a company selling a counterfeit version of its product. This case, really the first of its kind in the world, went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld the demand. Google then took the case to a court in California that overturned the injunction. This important case, featuring intellectual property rights, free speech and multiple jurisdictions, will no doubt inform many similar internet cases in the years to come. In fact, the most interesting cases I have tackled are the ones that have importance beyond the parties directly involved in the litigation. I enjoy being part of a larger story.
You’ve done a considerable amount of pro bono work, particularly in support of the homeless.What drew you to this particular issue? Tell us about your involvement with Pivot Legal Society.
A few years ago, I was going through a tough time personally. I sought some advice from one of the most important mentors of my legal career, Bill Berardino, QC, who urged me to take some time to think about what was really important to me. I began thinking about one of the reasons why I had gone to law school in the first place, which was to help people. And while I had done volunteer work throughout my career, it was the right moment to make pro bono work a priority. I was connected to Pivot Legal Society, and soon began working with them to represent a group of homeless people who had set up an encampment on city-owned land in Abbotsford. What began as a half-day injunction turned into a six-week trial. The end result was that we were successful in advancing the Charter rights of homeless people, and in changing attitudes and behaviours toward homeless people in communities across the province. I am currently working with a group of homeless people in Maple Ridge, and recently spoke at an Access Pro Bono conference on the personal and professional benefits to be gained from pro bono work. That said, it is intrinsically rewarding to help other people, irrespective of any professional benefit. As a society, we have substantial access to justice challenges, and it is important that we work to meet these legal needs.
Congratulations on your recent wedding! What were some of the highlights from your honeymoon in Japan?
I enjoyed taking lots of photos, including some shots of a Kushi Matsuri (Comb Festival), and a Zen garden. I also really enjoyed the respectfulness of Japanese culture. The tradition of bowing alone, let alone the respectful lineups, made Japan a very easy and relaxing place to travel. I also gained an appreciation for sumo wrestling! We watched sumo wrestling on television with our host in Tokyo who taught us about the rituals and the politics of the sport. I cheered for a 6’4”, 365lb Mongolian named Hakuho (who was undefeated during the tournament we watched).
In an alternate universe, if you were not a lawyer, what would be your dream career?
I would be a rock climbing guide, a photographer or a diplomat.