I recently had the fortune to get to know Oliver Ho. Oliver is currently a partner at Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP, and was conferred his B.A. and LL.B concurrently in 2002, and his MBA in 2016. Oliver is genuinely passionate about helping others and giving back to the community, and in this article we learn more about his inspiring story.
14 years after you completed your BA and LLB, you obtained your MBA. What made you decide to go back and further your education?
Let me start off by saying that legal education is one of the best kinds of education that one can obtain. This goes for people who decide to practice law and those who don’t practice law. A legal education can be useful to anybody. For me, I wanted to be a lawyer first. After having spent many years building my legal skills, I decided that I should spend some time focusing on different elements of my practice.
I had been working for over a decade before I decided to go back to school to pursue an education in management. I was in the stage of my career where learning business skills would be helpful not only in advising clients, but also in the administration of a law firm. I always had an interest in business, and the timing seemed right to continue that pursuit. Additionally, the subject matter for my thesis in business school was law firm mergers. Studying this subject and having worked through a period of time when law firm mergers was particularly popular gave me greater insight into the operation strategies adopted by law firms. Now that I have been through business school, I can say that it complements a legal education. Given that lawyers work in a business environment, and that business is an important element to all of our clients, having a knowledge of business and having business skills rounds–out the skills lawyers learn at school and in their practices.
As a lawyer today, do you still feel the same motivation when you started law school?
For me, my initial motivation was that both of my parents graduated from University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I was told by my parents that I always liked to argue when I was younger. To a large extent I still find debating issues to be intellectually stimulating. However, as a lawyer, I am now more motivated by making a difference in the community. When I first entered law school, I had an expectation that I was going to make a difference, but I didn’t know how I was going to do that. Now that I have practiced law for a number of years, I have a better idea of what I can and cannot do, and what the Courts can and cannot do. Listening, for example, is a skill that lawyers develop which I would not have originally imagined would be as helpful but can surprisingly make a big difference in helping clients.
How has being a lawyer changed your life?
The practice of law has helped me develop and refine some very tangible skills, for example, logical reasoning, problem solving, and public speaking. These are valuable skills, and using them every day has given me the opportunity to refine them and make them a part of my everyday thinking. But the practice of law has also brought me much insight into society and the way our world works. As a litigator, I deal with other people’s problems every day, and that exposure allows me to see our community from a different perspective. We are fortunate to be lawyers; we know what our good days are like and what our bad days are like. But it’s eye opening to see what a good day or a bad day for someone else means. Being in law also taught me to harness my skills and pick my battles. We can go through life debating every issue and finding faults or weaknesses in every detail, but choosing your battles and prioritizing the important elements of life have helped me to see the world from a broader perspective.
How did you know that you wanted to practice in the area that you currently practice?
I was not wholly convinced that I was going to be a litigator. My interest in litigation first grew when I participated in moots in law school. I loved the thrill of developing and making arguments, and then having to immediately defend your positions by answering questions from the Court. It was only after my articles that I finally realized that litigation is what I wanted to pursue.
I articled at a large national firm so I was lucky enough to be exposed to many different practice areas and work with many different lawyers. However, I found myself enjoying the duties associated with litigation the most during duty student week, which is a part of the articling process where an articling student is responsible for going to the Court to make procedural or relatively straight-forward applications that other lawyers at the firm may need to obtain. This experience made me realize that litigation is something that I really wanted to pursue.
I decided to join Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP because I wanted to focus on litigation. Leaving a large national firm was a difficult decision because as law students we had all worked so hard to get matched with a prestigious firm; in some ways, I thought I was giving up on this great opportunity. But by this time I knew that I was particularly interested in the type of litigation that JSS was doing, and that joining a litigation boutique firm would also be an opportunity in and of itself. I decided to take this leap of faith, and I’ve never looked back.
Did work life balance affect your decision to join JSS LLP?
It was not a factor. I was young back then and I was prepared to put in the hours. However, I saw JSS as something that could grow and that I could grow with it. JSS’s size and business structure gives us the ability to help some individuals who might not otherwise be able to retain a lawyer at my old firm. I was attracted to the idea of being a part of a law firm that was growing, and which I could grow with. Since I’ve joined the firm, we have grown to over twice the number of lawyers. Looking back, I see that I wasn’t particularly concerned with work life balance as a young lawyer, but today, I see that work life balance is an important factor in pursuing a long legal career.
What are some of your accomplishments that you are proud of?
I am proud of being able to mentor young lawyers; I am fortunate to have the opportunity to mentor young lawyers who are members of our firm, members of FACL, and law students in general. I am also very proud that my family and I were able to set up a scholarship for students who are interested in spending some of their legal education studying at the University of Hong Kong. The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law has a program where students may choose to spend one or more of their semesters studying law at other universities, including the University of Hong Kong. My family’s ethnic background is from Hong Kong, and the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law gave us the tools that we need to earn our livelihood. We are proud to be Chinese Canadians, we are proud to be Calgarians, and we are proud to be lawyers. This scholarship allows us to give back to not only the University of Calgary and to today’s students, but also to those communities that helped us make our lives a reality. We have good clients, strong and fruitful practices, and we could not have come this far without the support of the Chinese, Canadian or legal communities. The scholarship is a way to contribute to those things and encourage those communities to come together.
We are very impressed by your accomplishments, but what do you do in your spare time?
I’ve been a volunteer judge for various University of Calgary law moot teams. A great moot team really shines if they put in the extra effort to prepare. The more you know about the law, and the more you know about the details of the fact situation, the easier it would be to answer the questions that can come from the Bench.
When I was preparing for my moots, I would put in a lot of extra hours. I was always reading relevant cases and re-reading the fact scenario. I also practiced my presentation skills, both oral and in writing. I always edited and revised a factum as much as I could because doing it over and over helps you find potential mistakes and fix them.
From what I understand you are also a member of the Board of Directors for the Youth Singers of Calgary. Could you tell us more about that?
I’ve had an interest in music my entire life. I spent 15 years singing with the Calgary Boys Choir before shifting to the Youth Singers of Calgary where I sang for another decade or so. I met some of my best friends in the organization and have traveled to many continents with them.
A big part of my life has also been teaching at the Youth Singers of Calgary. I was the Assistant Director for the Junior High division for a number of years, and I like to think that I contributed to those students’ interest in music. Being on the Board today is a way that I can continue to contribute to the organization.
I also performed as a musician on 5 different continents in the past as a singer with my choirs. I don’t sing in a group anymore, but I do play in a band that started out as my firm’s band, the “AdvoCats”. We’re now called the “Anton Pillars and the Shredders”. We are a cover band that provides entertainment to firm members and the legal community. Most of Anton Pillar’s gigs are fund raisers. We have done battle of the bands for a number of years, such as the March of Dimes fundraiser. We are all great lawyers, and less-great musicians, so don’t expect us to be quitting our day jobs anytime soon.
Are there any similarities between appearing in Court and singing or performing in front of an audience?
Very good point. Both require a certain level of confidence and effective communication skills. Self-confidence may not be natural to everybody, but it is a skill that you can learn and practice. Mooting is an excellent forum to practice those skills. You might not win all the time, but that in itself is practicing. At some point in your career you are going to speak to a judge – why not use moots to practice advocacy skills or performing to practice your self-confidence and skills of persuasion? When performing you need to be able to communicate; it can be simple as using proper diction, but also in the way you convey a message, which goes for both being on stage and in Court.
How do you balance your time between your busy schedule and your other endeavors?
You make the time for things that are important to you. Time for family, career, hobbies and community are all important and should play a part in our lives. If you think of something as important, you will find time for that thing. I find that as lawyers, we all know that we have to work hard in order to best serve our clients, but we also appreciate when our work-loads aren’t as busy when we can spend more time with our friends and families. Balance is a tricky thing; I have found it’s best learned organically and over time. The longer you practice law, the better you get at balancing.
Photos: Isce Lanaria