The Visionary: Louis Frapporti LL.B. '90

August 11, 2023


By Pat Morden

"The law, my boy, puts us into everything. It’s the ultimate backstage pass. It’s the new priesthood, baby.”

That’s a quote from one of Louis Frapporti’s favorite movies, The Devil’s Advocate. The line is spoken by big-time New York lawyer John Milton (played by Al Pacino), who also happens to be, well, Satan.

Although Frapporti’s goals are the antithesis of devilish, he agrees that the profession can be an important community nexus. “Lawyers are at the centre of many decisions,” he says. “Whether it’s the public or private sector, we create the rules, and legal culture often determines outcomes.” He is relying on that influence as Chair of Hamilton’s bid to host the 2030 Commonwealth Games.

Frapporti grew up in Timmins, Ontario. His parents didn’t finish high school, and he wasn’t an academic star. As he was completing a degree in political science at Western, he wrote the LSAT and surprised himself by doing well. His first law school acceptance came from Western Law. “I remember opening that letter,” he says. “Going to law school was so far from my life experience that it wasn’t real until the letter was in my hand.”

A commercial litigator for over 25 years, Frapporti has practiced most of that time in Gowling WLG’s Hamilton office, an office he recently led as its managing partner for four years.

His experiences in the industry have made him question the culture of the industry as a whole. He is deeply concerned by the record rate of mental health issues among lawyers, and about issues around retention and disengagement. “The profession is structured on a short term, no retained earnings model with every lawyer’s focus being on annual hour and fee targets” he points out. “Progression in law firms is generally a function of how fast you run that hamster wheel.” Covid has exacerbated the problems this focus has caused, as lawyers have left the profession or at least resisted calls to return to the office. Says Frapporti, “The profession’s culture, which was a challenge in promoting engagement and work life balance prior to the pandemic, isn’t proving conducive to a return to ‘business as usual’.” 

He admits that for many years he was the kind of gritty litigator who believed that winning was everything. His time in management, having focused heavily on community engagement during that period, led him to a more balanced view. “I’ve come to prioritize what many millennials describe as purpose – the pursuit of a deeper and more holistic meaning in what we do and how we do it.” He is influenced by the work of economist Michael Porter, who developed the concept of shared value. Instead of thinking of social responsibility as charity, Porter says companies can make positive social outcomes a central part of their business. Such corporations do well by doing good, Frapporti believes. “If you’re seen as an organization that is trying to improve the lives of as many people as possible in your community, people will be more likely to want to do business with you because they share your values.” Many lawyers too could benefit from a different approach to their clients. “There’s good evidence that lawyers who prioritize relationships over transactions do much better financially  over time.”

In his role as managing partner, he had the opportunity to connect more broadly with his own community, and ultimately, with a group of enthusiasts committed to bringing the Commonwealth Games to Hamilton on the centenary of the first Games, held in Hamilton in 1930. “The vision was so improbable and grand, with such an enormous potential positive impact on our community, I couldn’t resist lending a hand,” he says. “Although it has overwhelmed my life, I’ve never looked back.”

Personally, the involvement has given Frapporti the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, in a wide variety of industries and sectors, and get a better understanding of the challenges faced by many. There are benefits for Gowlings, too. “The connectivity of a firm and its networks of influence are critically important. The Games is a massive single point of connectivity that can help foster relationships centred on ‘doing good’.”

It is by no means an easy task to put together a bid for a 70-country multi-sport Games. As a volunteer-led initiative, the Games bid has been hampered by limited financial resources, staffing and until recently, government support. And then of course, Covid intervened. Yet thanks to the hard work of Frapporti and many other private sector leaders who have given their time, and the support of Commonwealth Sport Canada, Hamilton has succeeded in being selected as Canada’s prospective host for the Games. With Australia hosting in 2026 and New Zealand likely bidding for 2034, Frapporti believes Ontario is the “sentimental favorite” for 2030. The final decision is expected to be announced by the Commonwealth Games Federation in November 2023.

Frapporti is accustomed to the “bread and circuses” debate around multi-sport Games and believes passionately that the Commonwealth Games are different. The mission is to “improve the wellbeing of communities through the transformative power of sport.” The Hamilton bid team is focused on the Games as a “movement,” rather than a single event, with the goal of advancing positive social change as their primary legacy ambition. Some 20,000 volunteers will have the opportunity to be directly involved, and the economic and social impact will be felt for many years.

Unlike the Olympics, able and paraathletic competition happen in the same two-week period. The Commonwealth Games are noted for making room for those who are differently abled. For example, at the Birmingham Games which Frapporti attended in August 2022, hundreds of children with cognitive and physical challenges performed in the opening ceremonies. “As they streamed out of the stadium, they were so overwhelmed with joy,” says Frapporti. “It was unbelievably moving. And it’s a priority we are determined to champion in Canada.”

Among the innovations in Hamilton’s bid is the idea of inviting smaller countries to cohost sports popular in their cultures. The bid team is also working to innovate the Games model by recruiting the private sector to lead the way around infrastructure. For example, private developers are being approached to finance and create Games’ facilities that are immediately needed in communities as a way of building their brands. “Incenting the private sector to take a leadership role relieves the public taxpayer of having to foot the bill,” he explains. “We can use government participation and subsidization where it really makes a difference.”

Frapporti says Hamilton and the surrounding region will benefit on many levels – by highlighting the region, building civic pride, creating jobs and affordable housing, increasing volunteerism, and much more. “For many, this is a ‘moon shot’,” he says. “We’re seeking to innovate a novel approach to multi-sport Games through the ingenuity and effort of the broadest possible cross-section of talent in our region. It’s a decade-long community building initiative.”

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberg notes that Frapporti’s work, and the support of the business community has been critical to the success of the bid so far. “Louis has brought lots of energy and enthusiasm, a meticulous level of detail, and many valuable connections to the process,” he says. “A legal mind focused on the benefits of this project is a perfect marriage of talent.”

For Frapporti himself, however, the journey may end soon. Assuming the bid is successful, he believes that other skills and abilities will be needed to bring the Games to fruition. “It’s like a relay race – I’ll joyfully pass the baton and become a passionate cheerleader and ambassador for this city and its citizens.”

Editor’s note: Hamilton is no longer a contender for the bid for the 2030 Commonwealth Games due to insufficent government funding.

This story first appeared in the 2022 issue of the Western Law Alumni Magazine.