Meet alum Tom Alvarez, BDes '20

“I think a lot of people get stuck living for the weekend and grinding it out at work during the week. I almost did, and I’m proud of myself for having the courage to drop everything and basically start over. ”

AUArts: Tell us a little about yourself?

Tom Alvarez: I’m a 30-year-old new grad of the AUArts BDes program, focusing on UX and graphic design and a 2011 mechanical engineering alum from the University of Calgary. Professionally, I’m the Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Goodlawyer, [an online service that makes it faster and easier for clients to find and hire legal help] but in my non-design time I’m a mountain enthusiast, wannabe pro skier and a self-proclaimed dog whisperer. 

AUArts: What have you been up to since graduating from AUArts? 

Alvarez: Working! I only finished a few weeks ago and got straight to working full-time on Goodlawyer. We’re growing quickly during the pandemic, especially since we rolled out our free offer to help Canadians across the country get the legal help they need. Outside of the Goodlawyer universe, I’ve been spending most of my downtime with family, walking the dog (probably too much), trying new recipes, and finally getting a bit of exercise after a grueling final year of school and work. 


Photo provided by Tom Alvarez

AUArts: What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment so far?  

Alvarez: Figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and dropping everything to pursue it. I went to university for mechanical engineering when I was 17 and graduated at 21. I was never crazy about it but it was a great career path, so I stuck it out, found my first engineering job and settled in for what was probably the worst three years of my life. I was just unhappy, maybe even a little disillusioned with the work, and I realized that I needed to do something more personally fulfilling to be happy. 

Architecture had always interested me so I figured I could start working on a portfolio by taking some continuing education classes at AUArts. I really fell in love with design and AUArts itself, so I left engineering and enrolled in First Year Studies. I hit a few more potholes along the way but I persevered and excelled, finding a passion in my work that I had never known before. I think a lot of people get stuck living for the weekend and grinding it out at work during the week. I almost did, and I’m proud of myself for having the courage to drop everything and basically start over. 

Oh, and co-founding Goodlawyer! It’s still early days, but we really believe that as a team we can help create a lasting impact in an area of society (and people’s lives) that is horribly underserved.

AUArts: What setbacks, or potholes as you call them, have you had along the way and what did you learn from them? 

Alvarez: Around the time I was thinking about leaving engineering, I became extremely ill. A few month later I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a disease that afflicts the large intestine and colon. I tried every medication and treatment under the sun and was constantly in and out of the hospital. Just to give you an idea, I’m 6’3” and weighed 133 lbs. at one point — it was rough. Ultimately, after four years of intense struggle, I opted to have a major surgery. They removed my entire large intestine and colon, and seven pounds later, there were no more problems, but the recovery was brutal. 

All of this was going on during the tail end of my engineering career and while taking continuing education night classes and First Year Studies at AUArts. I had to take one of my Art History finals two days early because my surgery was scheduled during finals. I wrote my last exam and a day later I went under the knife. Then I used the summer to recover and rehabilitate. I’m happy to say I’m 100 per cent healthy today. 

If I were to pick one golden nugget from the heap of lessons I got from the experience, it would be: do work that makes you happy. I don’t know if my body was telling me to get out of engineering or what, but I learned that for me happiness depends on doing fulfilling work.


Photo provided by Tom Alvarez

AUArts: How have you been challenged to see the world differently?

Alvarez: I look for ways to improve every single user experience I encounter. Whether it’s standing in a line, or using an actual app. I am constantly thinking about the experience I have with a brand or product. It’s gotten to the point that my partner has even started pointing out broader UX issues she faces in her day-to-day life. I also find that I just have a much greater appreciation for good design and, conversely, I am much more critical of thoughtless designs.

AUArts: In your opinion, why is art, craft, design, and creativity in general, so important to the world today and our future?

Alvarez: Coming at it from the perspective of a UX designer, it’s everything. The best brands out there are ones that really leverage design and creativity to set themselves apart. They care about their users’ experiences. They have entire teams of designers and creatives constantly trying to make things better for us. I love to look at Airbnb for example, two graphic designers built a $30B+ company because their core principles were designing for trust and making it easy to use. They gave the world an amazing new way to stay in previously impossible places and it started purely with their creativity. Anyone who tells you that design is not important for the betterment of our world is sorely misinformed.


Photo provided by Tom Alvarez

AUArts: What inspires and motivates you?

Alvarez: Building something that has the potential to change society. We’re working on a serious issue at Goodlawyer. According to the 2019 Clio Legal Trends report, almost 77 per cent of people and small businesses have unmet legal needs. We’re bringing them fast and affordable legal help in a totally new way and it’s working. We’ve had hundreds of clients already since we relaunched a few months ago and it honestly never gets old. Every time we’re able to help someone with a legal issue that was previously being ignored due to price, inconvenience, whatever, it gets me so fired up and makes me want to find that next person to help. Especially with all the COVID-19 stuff going on, there is a serious need for affordable legal help and it’s extremely rewarding to be in a position where my work can help others.

AUArts: What media are you into right now? (a specific book/podcast/film/art, etc.)?

The Goodlawyer Show podcast! We started it at the beginning of April and it’s so interesting. Admittedly, I only have one or two podcasts I enjoy and I’m not involved with The Goodlawyer Show, but I’m hooked. If you’re into technology, law, and startups, I highly recommend it. And I’ve always got a good fantasy novel on the go: currently reading The Name of The Wind (again) before bed.

AUArts: When and where were/are you happiest?

Alvarez: I’d have to say the singular moments of the most pure, unadulterated joy are probably when I’m skiing. But I think in general, where I am in my life right now is the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m done school and I can finally have one sole focus (I don’t recommend finishing a design degree and building a startup at the same time by the way), I have an awesome partner who fiercely supports me, I’m doing incredibly fulfilling work on Goodlawyer with a team of people I’m lucky to call friends, and a family who always encourages me to be true to myself. Simply put, I have a lot to be thankful for and even more to look forward to.


Photo provided by Tom Alvarez

AUArts: What would you like to be remembered for? 

Alvarez: Professionally, I want to be remembered as a designer whose work really had a positive impact on the world. Hopefully it’s through Goodlawyer, but if not, I know I’ll find another way. As a person, I just want people to remember me as a fun, honest guy, and a loyal friend.

AUArts: Best piece of advice you ever received? 

Alvarez: Do something that makes you happy. It took me a while to get there, but I feel like every aspect of my life improved immeasurably when I found work that I was passionate about. My self-confidence and self-love grew and that permeated through the rest of my life improving my opportunities and outcomes.

AUArts: What’s next for Tom?

Alvarez: Honestly, right now I feel like the sky is truly the limit. Goodlawyer has seen 100 per cent monthly growth since January 2020, and we will be looking to raise a significant investment round in the next 6-12 months to springboard our launch into the US market.

Despite the crazy times, life is pretty good right now, and I plan on continuing to ride that wave.


Photo provided by Tom Alvarez


Know an alum you think we should feature? Email alumni@auarts.ca