“I was turned on by Law School. I had not been much of a serious student. I was a regular, ordinary student. Then I got into Law School and…I enjoyed Law School generally and then I did well in Law School and that helped a lot.” – Michael O’Keefe, Special Assistant to the Minister of Finance, Adjunct Professor, Tax Lawyer, Class of 1965.
Michael O’Keefe was raised in New Westminster, British Columbia and enrolled in the joint Commerce-Law program at the University of British Columbia. UBC was the closest institution, and the joint degree was a practical option for Mr. O’Keefe, who reflected that the benefit of the program was he “got another degree without spending more years.”
During his time in law school, he remembers working closely with classmates and enjoying classes, especially Torts with Professor McIntyre. He remembers how life imitated academia when “his [Professor Jimmy McIntyre] father got sick and he came here to teach so he succeeded his father in teaching Succession.” As far as classes in the old Army huts, Mr. O’Keefe thought there was nothing wrong with the buildings, “other than they were cold in the winter and hot in the summer.” Academic interests weren’t just limited to Michael O’Keefe’s time at UBC.
After obtaining his LL.B. he enrolled in an LL.M. at Berkeley, and would later return to the University of British Columbia as an Adjunct Professor. The academic ignition fuelled by exposure to the law drove Mr. O’Keefe’s further study. He recalls that “when I had gone to graduate school, I thought I would be a full-time academic.” However, an engaging tax practice came to alter these plans and shape his career.
Michael O’Keefe didn’t have an early passion for tax, but remembers he ended up practicing in the area by happenchance. He credits entering the field to when “Pat Thorsteinsson and Warren Mitchell persuaded me to join them in the practice of tax law. If they hadn’t done that, I would not have been a tax lawyer.” Mr. O’Keefe is adamant that tax is undeserving of its reputation and is, in fact, an interesting area of law, because of “the types of problems they [large clients] had, they had very complex problems.”
His golden advice for those beginning a legal career is that it’s a good profession to have, because “if they [people] look for it, there is a tremendous amount of variety in the practice of law.”
In 2014, Mr. O'Keefe was recognized by the Allard Law Alumni Association as the recipient of an Alumni Award of Distinction for his outstanding achievements and endeavours in the practice of law, government service, the judiciary, business, legal academe, community service or other areas have brought honour to the Faculty.
Michael O'Keefe was interviewed by the Peter A. Allard School of Law History Project in May 2017. Listen to the full interview to learn more about his practice as a tax lawyer, attending the law school in the 1960s and learning from Leon Getz, and his time as a Special Assistant to Finance Minster Edgar Benson during the reform of the Income Tax Act.