Selling out has become the new North American pastime. Madonna sold clothes for GAP. JLo and Beyoncé sold Pepsi in Europe. Bob Dylan sold out folk music for rock ’n’ roll. Lisa Vogt? She became a lawyer. “Most of my colleagues shook their heads,” Vogt recalls. “Another person selling out.”
It was 1979, and Vogt had completed her Masters in English Literature. She loved teaching, but there were few jobs available at the time, and in any case she wasn’t convinced that she was cut out for the politics of an academic position. What she really wanted was the independence of a professional career, the opportunity to choose her own colleagues and partners, the freedom to hang out her shingle and set to work. She looked around at the options, and chose law.
“My sister said she wouldn’t speak to me again,” Vogt laughs. “A year and a half later she followed me into law. Three of the five [of us] are lawyers. My father, who’s a scientist, doesn’t know what he did wrong. To this day, he enjoys more than anything else making lawyer jokes.”
Vogt was a university brat. Her father is Dr. Erich Vogt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics at UBC. “When I was growing up, he was a very good role model, because he was one of those people that loved their job but also would come home at six o’clock at night and have time for their families,” Vogt remembers. “I looked at that and thought, that’s what I want to do … but with my mother’s perspective and wisdom.”
At some point during first year, Vogt came to the realization that “it was the right decision for me to go into law. Law was about stories and language and understanding how to read and criticize a text,” she says. “It was clear law is simply about people and relationships.”
Those relationships saw her through her LL.B and have continued to guide her career choices. “[UBC law school] was a little bit like going back to high school,” she says. “You sort of had a homeroom and you had lockers in the basement. The camaraderie was palpable for all of us. Some of the friends I made in that ‘homeroom’ are still my friends today.” Then there were the teachers, “so clear in their analysis, and each really taught to the top third of the class, which meant everyone was scrambling to keep up.” Vogt names Beverley McLachlin, Bertie McClean, Dennis Pavlich, Robin Elliot and Bob Diebolt as significant influences. The entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was big news in the halls. “To watch the best Crown counsel then arguing the new Charter cases in court was fascinating,” says Vogt. “[It] was part of the reason I thought I wanted to be a litigator. It’s the litigators who are going to be creating new law here.”
But Vogt chose otherwise. “I didn’t have the patience to wait two or three years to bring a case to court,” Vogt explains. When she started to practise, she realized “the stuff that I liked best about litigation, solicitors do all the time anyway.” It was 1984, and the Lower Mainland real estate market had just crashed. There was almost no property work, but there were bankruptcies galore, and everybody was litigating. So Vogt joined Shrum, Liddle & Hebenton (soon to become McCarthy Tétrault) as a litigator. Looking around the firm, she asked herself, “‘Who do I think are the best lawyers here? Not only who can I learn from, but who do I want to be?’ The people in my firm who I saw as mentors at that point were in the real estate department.” Within a year, she’d moved into real estate and started doing property work.
She is now the Regional Managing Partner for McCarthy Tétrault’s Vancouver branch and a partner in the firm’s Real Property and Planning Group. She chaired the work on the new condominium legislation and is a member of the Electronic Filing and Registration Committee. Co-author of McCarthy Tétrault’s Annotated British Columbia Strata Property Act, Vogt also serves on the Board of Directors for the YWCA. Oh … and, together with her husband, she’s raising five amazing (her words) children.
“I think the critical issue facing the profession right now is how to properly accommodate … work/life balance,” Vogt says with urgency. She talks of the need to watch out for younger lawyers “so they’re not in the office 24/7 because that’s just not sustainable for anyone.” Even so, she doesn’t hesitate to recommend law as a career. “Law is a profession I would encourage my daughters particularly to go into—a fabulous profession for either men or women.” Sellout? Hardly. Lisa Vogt is completely sold on the choices she’s made, every step of the way.
Written by Diane Haynes and originally published in the UBC Law Alumni Magazine, Fall 2005.