Matthew Nathanson earned his LLB from UBC in 1997 and is now a practicing criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver, as well as an active volunteer and mentor for students at Allard Law.
Matthew knew he wanted to become a lawyer at a very early age. His father is a lawyer, so Matthew’s interest in the law was sparked by early family conversations around the dinner table about the law.
After pursuing his undergraduate studies in Ontario – which Matthew aptly described as “really cold” – Matthew returned to BC to be warmer and closer to his family, and to pursue his law degree at UBC, where he brought his discussions of law from the family dinner table to debates in the classroom.
In particular, Matthew enjoyed debating issues in the area of criminal law. “Criminal law engages the most fundamental issues in people’s lives. Good people often find themselves in bad situations. That which appears to be simple, is never so. Creativity and ingenuity are needed in every single case. No two cases are the same, and there is an endless amount of new things to learn.”
Matthew spoke highly of the law school, but he joked that he did not enjoy the “excessive parking enforcement at UBC,” having successfully evaded the parking patrol for all three years of law school, until the last day of exams. “At that point the jig was up. My unsuccessful identification defence still haunts me to this day.”
Undaunted by his run-in with parking enforcement in his final days as a student, Matthew still returns regularly to give back to the law community and support Allard Law students. In particular, Matthew enjoys attending classes at Allard as a lecturer, stating that the students’ interest and excitement is always inspiring. Matthew has also coached various moot teams: “The level of improvement in the students is amazing. Although I cannot take any credit for this, one of the students involved in the Peter Burns moot years ago is now a leading criminal lawyer.”
Though Matthew does not take credit for that particular student’s success, it is hard to deny that he has played a role in the development and success of a number of students over the years. As to his own career, Matthew credits “any modicum of success [he has] enjoyed” to the guidance of his father; older brother Andrew; and mentor, the late David Gibbons Q.C. In recognition of the support he received, and the fact that—as Matthew said—“it is vitally important that law students have good mentoring,” Matthew regularly tries to “pay it forward” by staying involved with Allard Law.
Matthew has recently also gone to new lengths to support students by helping to establish the St. Pierre, Romilly, Nathanson Entrance Award in Law for Black Students. Before law school, Matthew studied history and took courses on the American civil rights movement. “I was struck by how the law can be a powerful force for change, or a tool for oppression when misused. The Black Lives Matter movement, half a century later, has shown how much more work needs to be done.”
Matthew—together with Judge David St. Pierre, Justice Selwyn Romilly, and two anonymous donors—wanted to do his part in supporting diversity in the legal profession as a means of effecting social change. “We are extremely gratified to see the award come to fruition. Having said that, we are hopeful this is just the beginning.”
Though the award will hopefully go a long way in encouraging more Black students to consider studying law, Matthew had these words of encouragement to offer for prospective students who might still be unsure: “The practice of law is incredibly rewarding. As a lawyer, you get to help people through some of the most difficult situations in their lives. In criminal law, you can help prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people. Keeping a client out of jail can help them recover from a serious mistake and give them a second chance. Fearless advocacy helps ensure that the power of the state does not encroach on the rights and freedoms we all enjoy. Your work as a lawyer helps maintain the integrity of the system as a whole. It is hard to imagine a more important or worthwhile pursuit.”