Making a case for generosity

In 2010, the partnership of Davidson and Williams LLP gathered around a board table. The law firm was celebrating its 125th anniversary, and the discussion revolved around how best to commemorate the occasion. With a group of highly skilled lawyers completely at ease in the art of debate and persuasion, the conversation could have been lengthy and fraught with controversy. The reality however was the exact opposite.

U of L student Alvin Lee is looking at eventually becoming a surgeon.

“We knew we wanted to mark the occasion by making a substantive commitment to our local community. That commitment had to be to something we all valued and believed in,” recalls Kristin Ailsby (BA ’96), a lawyer and partner at Davidson and Williams. “When we contemplated the common thread among every lawyer who practiced at our firm over the 125 years, it was obvious. Education was the shared priority for every single one.”

The verdict was reached quickly and unanimously: an award would be established to support students at the University of Lethbridge.

“We have the privilege of serving the public as lawyers, and it truly is a privilege. We haven’t lost sight of the fact that we’ve acquired that privilege in large part because of our post-secondary education. We simply wanted to facilitate access to education and give students the means to have the same sort of meaningful rewarding careers we have,” says Ailsby.

Choosing the U of L was a natural fit – all but one lawyer at Davidson and Williams is a U of L graduate. Named in memory of a former colleague and respected judge, the Honourable Lawrence David Maclean, Q.C. Memorial Award for Service, gives $1,000 to a second-year student in the Faculty of Arts & Science. An endowed fund, the award will be available to students in perpetuity. In addition, after being selected, the recipient can continue to receive funding every year until graduation.

Deciding on the criteria for the award came just as easily. In keeping with the values the firm holds, the scholarship would be given to a student with strong roots in southern Alberta, and grade point average would not be as important a requirement as community service.

“We wanted to make sure students acquired knowledge through practical experience, not only through their formal education. They’ll be stronger, better students if they’re involved in their community,” explains Ailsby.

It’s that philosophy that has shaped Alvin Lee, a third-year biochemistry student at the U of L. Lee was the first recipient to receive the award in 2012 and received ongoing support this past year. Involved with the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Blood Services, as well as several campus clubs including iGEM and Rotaract, Lee devotes countless hours to others.

Scholarship winner Alvin Lee, fourth from left, with lawyers from Davidson and Williams LLP, including (from left) Matthew McHugh, Kristin Ailsby, Steven Florendine, Jim Taylor and Deirdre McKenna. Richard Davidson and Herb Beswick were not available.

For Lee, a student with ambitious goals of eventually becoming a surgeon, receiving the award was a huge relief.

“Aside from the academic pressure associated with trying to get into medical school, there’s always the financial matter in the back of my mind,” says Lee.

Lee’s parents were forced to emigrate from Cambodia during the Vietnam War, and seeing them struggle in a foreign country has shaped him profoundly.

“Because of my parents' language barrier, they were denied access to education, so I feel it’s a blessing to have this opportunity to improve our quality of life,” he explains. “But I feel like I’m carrying that burden and stress to try and achieve as much as possible, so that I can in turn help them. That’s why this scholarship is really helpful. It allows me to relax from those ideas and focus on my academics.”

For those at Davidson and Williams, Lee’s story brings their gift full circle.

“How does it feel when we look back at our decision to create this award? It feels just right – that we achieved exactly what we set out to do,” reflects Ailsby. “The best case scenario is that the award would continue to go to someone like Alvin – someone who needs it, appreciates it and can use it.”

June 30, 1927 – April 18, 2010

L.D. MACLEAN, Q.C., was known as a mentor to many – a man who gave freely of his time and knowledge. He practised law in Lethbridge until his appointment to the Supreme Court of Alberta, Trial Division in 1978. When he retired from the Bench at 75 he continued his legal career as senior counsel for Davidson & Williams LLP until he passed in 2010. The entire team at Davidson & Williams remembers him as an awesome, formidable force.

“L.D. was a boxer in university and that personality stayed with him his entire life. He had contagious energy, was a wise strategist, fierce advocate and principled person… Best of all, he wasn’t ever afraid to punch above his weight,” recalls Ailsby. “With his experience as a Queen’s Bench Justice, L.D. had all sorts of knowledge and ideas that he that he freely shared with us. He had a massive influence in our firm and inspired so many members of our team. And so it was that when he passed away, we knew we needed to name the award after him and his contributions to our clients, our firm and the legal community generally.”