One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting ‘behind the scenes’ with senior leadership at UBC.
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Hubert Lai, Q.C. was appointed as UBC’s University Counsel in 2001. At the time, he was the youngest person to have ever served in such a capacity at a major Canadian university. As well, from 2006 to 2007, he simultaneously served as the university’s Associate Vice-President, Government Relations.
Since 2007, Hubert has served as a member of the University Executive. In 2012, he was appointed as Queen’s Counsel by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
HL: I admire leaders who inspire others. Leaders who demonstrate that they value their colleagues and teams. I think it’s important for leaders to help people see that they are making a valuable contribution to the university.
What makes you laugh?
HL: My kids! I have a daughter who is 13-years-old, and a 14-year-old son. It’s true when they say that “kids say the darndest things”. But the thing I love the most is how sure they are of their opinions, and how it forces me to take a look at my own perspectives and ask questions.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
HL: Not to set limits on yourself. When I was young my parents sent me to a school that expected a lot of its students. I remember being asked which sports team I wanted to be on. At the time, I was the stereotypical nerd and had decided I needed to prioritize my strengths, which definitely did not include sports. But the school wouldn’t accept that. I was told I had to pick a team — so I chose rugby. By the time I graduated, I had played intramural rugby, soccer, and hockey, and had been on the varsity track & field team, alpine ski team, and sailing team. This taught me a valuable lesson about setting limits. If you just try something, you might be surprised at what you are capable of.
How do you like to recharge?
HL: I am a skier and mountain biker. My kids are in the Whistler Mountain Ski Club and we ski just about every weekend during winter. I am also a fan of fast cars and motorcycles!
For you, what makes UBC different?
HL: I have been the University Counsel for 15 years but my career at UBC dates back to 1994. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles and teams. I think what has kept me here, and what makes UBC different, is the fact that we get to work on some really interesting, unique projects. We also have some great people and I am very lucky to work with a senior administration team that is extremely collaborative.
What is the best advice you were ever given?
HL: Jim Taylor, Q.C. (a well-known alumnus and former UBC law professor who sadly passed away in October 2016) gave me some valuable advice when I first became a father. I remember he told me that there may be moments, as a parent, when you can’t wait until your child passes a particularly awkward phase. That I may find myself saying: “I can’t wait until they grow out of it”. But Jim stressed the need to enjoy every moment because it passes quicker than we realize.
I am glad that I paid attention along the way. And whether or not you’re a parent, I think it’s good advice to live by.
What do you value in your colleagues?
HL: Once you get past the basic things like competency and experience, I think the main thing I value is the desire to work as part of a team. Some people are very successful but maintain a competitive attitude. For me, collaboration is key. And I am pleased to say that we have a new President who is innately a very collaborative person.
Who are your favorite writers?
HL: I enjoy reading science fiction, and am a fan of the work of Philip K. Dick. I am very interested in the thematic idea of what makes humans, human.
What are the main priorities for the Office of the University Counsel?
HL: Many people don’t understand the mandate of the Office of the University Counsel. We are a small unit and a lot of our time is spent working with colleagues across the university, providing legal advice on an incredibly wide range of issues. The best way to describe our function is that we are responsible for all legal affairs at UBC, except for labour relations and employment.
In addition to core legal advice and services, we ensure that UBC’s internal administrative tribunals operate in accordance with the principles of natural justice, manage the conflict of interest disclosure/management system, and oversee the process of developing and reviewing policies approved by the Board of Governors.
We are also responsible for access to information and personal privacy, and we play a central role in information security along with UBC IT and Risk Management Services. It is essential that everyone at the university plays their part in privacy and information security. Resources are available online on the Privacy Matters website, and I urge every faculty and staff member to take the Privacy and Information Security — Fundamentals online training course.