When Victor Tsao broke the news to his parents Ben and Ruth that he was returning to university to pursue a professional degree, their reaction was one of happy relief. “So you have finally come to your senses,” said the couple, who are both physicians. “I want to go to law school,” Tsao clarified.
“Oh,” Ben and Ruth responded, “so you really haven’t come to your senses.”
Tsao, who is McMillan LLP’s co-chair of the China Practice Group and Japan Practice Group in British Columbia, laughs as he relates this anecdote of dashed parental expectations. In Japan, where his parents had worked after leaving China in the 1980s, being a physician was prestigious. Business or law? Not so much.
The family, including younger sister Lily, immigrated to Canada following Tsao’s graduation from high school. As a student, he became enamoured with business after reading The Third Wave, about society’s transformation to the Information Age. In Canada, Tsao undertook computer science at Queen’s University, while working as CEO of the IT consulting company Whet, creating medical research software. Using family contacts in Asia, Tsao set up a development centre in Shanghai. Salaries there were lower, and Tsao passed these savings on to his clients. “We had a very good thing going,” says Tsao. “We were faster and cheaper than anybody.”
Then, Tsao took a “Business Law 101” class to learn patent strategies for his software inventions. Tsao was fascinated by this brief brush with the law. Within short order, he finished his computer science degree (Honours), sold his company shares and moved to Vancouver with his wife, Haruna and their two small children to become a full-time UBC Faculty of Law student. “I discovered that this is what I was really meant to do,” Tsao says.
Tsao graduated from law school in 2009, articled with Gowlings Vancouver and went to work for Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP for five years. The beginning of 2015 saw him move to McMillan LLP, where his early schooling in Chinese classical literature and fluency in Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese have made him invaluable as head counsel for two large teams of lawyers working with Mainland China and Japanese business clients. The teams also represent Canadian and Chinese interests in various sectors such as technology, resources and real estate on both sides of the Pacific.
Tsao’s life has meandered onto many different pathways: from a student in China and Japan to Canadian immigrant, businessman and, finally, lawyer. Throughout it all, one thing has remained consistent — a philosophy that he imparts onto his children, who now number four. “It is a Confucius saying that translates as, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This applies to everything I do,” Tsao says.
With his obvious success in law, are Tsao’s parents still disappointed in his choice of profession? “Yes, very much,” says Tsao with a grin. “So they have shifted attention to my son and daughters to convince them why being a doctor is the only career they should have.”