John-Paul Boyd (LLB ’99) was half way through completing a master’s degree in philosophy when he first realized his interest in speculative epistemology was so far removed from his roots as a social activist that he could no longer justify his pursuit of it. Believe it or not, prior to attending law school, he had marched in anti-nuke parades and lobbied for affordable post-secondary education. It wasn’t until his sister wrote the LSAT, and he heard a judge applying the reasonable person test when he happened to be in court, however, that he realized his interest in philosophy and passion for social activism could be combined in legal education and practice. That, as well as his ability to drive his motorcycle to class year round, drew him to pursue his legal education at the UBC’s faculty of law (now, the Peter A. Allard School of Law). This month, we feature Boyd’s story to learn more about how he combines his experience and passion for philosophy and social progress in everyday practice.
Today, Boyd is the executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Calgary and a member of the bars of Alberta and British Columbia. The main work of the Institute involves promoting evidence-based law reform and improving access to justice and public legal education. He also teaches family law at the University of Calgary and has served on numerous committees and boards in the same field.
Despite his current focus, Boyd wasn’t initially interested in a career in family law. When he graduated, with the knowledge that participating in the Law Student Legal Advice Program had afforded him, he wanted to be a criminal lawyer. After dabbling in the courts as an articling student under a criminal law supervisor, Boyd began to view the family law as an intriguing, exciting opportunity to make concrete differences in his client’s lives.
Three years after graduating from Allard Law, his practice in family law began to take an academic bent. His publications began when a client of his couldn’t finance an appeal for a restraining order. To finance it, Boyd wrote an article that was later featured in the Advocate in 2002. This experience served as a kick-start to the academic side of his career. He began writing more and had the opportunity to participate in the reform of provincial court family laws in BC and contribute to the development and implementation of the revision of the Family Law Act.
Although he immensely enjoyed working for his clients, his transition into more academic pursuits allowed Boyd to continue his focus on revolutionary rethinking of how we do family law in the province, and talk about family law on an applied and socially responsible level with people across BC. Today he marriages his experience and application of the practical implications of family law with his theoretical exploration of the subject, to provide a unique and compelling perspective to the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, where he is a sessional instructor in foundational family law.
In such an impressively accomplished and intellectually engaging career, it was difficult for even Boyd to his career accomplishments to one significant highlight. From presenting to the National Judicial Board, to having influence in the drafting of the Family Law Act, it is easy to see that he has had an incredibly fulfilling career so far. However, he recognized his status as the founding author of the critically acclaimed public legal education wiki-book, JP Boyd on Family Law, as his most prized accomplishment. In a 2012 report of BC Public Legal Education, Boyd was highlighted as one of the six most significant sources of public legal education in the province of BC, for providing plain language, publicly accessible information pertaining to family law. Today, an advisory committee manages the wiki book and Boyd serves as an advisor allowing him to continue to combine his love of theory and philosophy with his aim for social action.
This interview was first published in the December 2017 edition of the Peter A. Allard School of Law Alumni Newsletter.