A promising litigator, Dustin Paul aims to make a difference in the courtroom
Almost ten years after a tragic motorcycle accident, UBC law student Dustin Paul has become the first quadriplegic hired to article at Bull, Housser & Tupper, one of Canada’s top legal firms.
As he prepares to graduate from UBC’s Faculty of Law, the 28-year-old credits his accident—which took away the use of his legs and hands—for making his achievement possible.
“Of course I wish it hadn’t happened, but at the same time, university just wasn’t on my radar,” says Paul. “I wasn’t a troublemaker, but I was on a different path. School had always been more of a social thing for me. I thought I’d work with my hands.”
“I don’t mind being behind a desk, but the courtroom is where my strengths can have the biggest impact.”
That changed, irrevocably, in May 2004 when his motorcycle slid off the road and flipped over on a trip to Whistler with friends.
“Our plan was just to go for a nice ride, grab some dinner, and come back.”
Instead, it was the start of “a very difficult decade,” says Paul, as he adjusted to life with a disability at 19.
After taking criminology at Langara and SFU, where he won the Terry Fox Award for his accomplishments facing adversity, he enrolled in UBC’s Faculty of Law.
“Criminology was interesting, but it was more just something to hold my interest and get me out of the house during a difficult time,” says Paul, who enjoys watching Breaking Bad, listening to R&B, and reading in his downtime. “But law was different. I knew it would be a challenge on a variety of levels, but that it’d also give me the direction and career path that I really needed.”
This fall, Paul will become the first quadriplegic to article with Vancouver law firm Bull, Housser & Tupper. He credits trailblazing lawyers with disabilities such as Joseph Arvay and William Morely, who both practice in B.C., for paving the way.
“Attitudes have come far, but a wheelchair still carries a stigma. It can be a physical or symbolic barrier for some people,” he says. “So I truly appreciate Bull Housser’s willingness to let me show them what I can do.”
Paul has emerged as a gifted litigator at UBC, racking up victories in Allard Hall’s practice courtroom and competitions.
“My ultimate goal is to be in the courtroom,” says Paul. “I don’t mind being behind a desk, but the courtroom is where my strengths—my legal training and public speaking skills—can have the biggest impact.”
For assignments, Paul uses Dragon Dictation, a voice recognition software, and edits by hand later by tapping his keyboard with a pencil. For texts and emails, he uses a Galaxy smartphone on his lap. Commuting from Burnaby, where he lives independently, he has relied heavily on family and friends to drive an accessible van modified to carry his motorized wheelchair, or takes transit.
Paul is looking ahead to graduation with hope and excitement—a stark difference from 10 years ago.
“Honestly, for the first time in long while—longer than I’d like to admit—I am genuinely excited about life and about my future,” he says, acknowledging his parents unwavering support. “I can’t wait to see the careers of my friends and classmates unfold. Life is trending up for all of us.”
Dustin Paul is one of 176 students graduating from UBC’s Faculty of Law on May 22. Learn more about UBC Law at Allard Hall: www.law.ubc.ca and UBC Access and Diversity at www.students.ubc.ca/access.