Skip to main content

Dennis O'Connor

Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press

Dennis O'Connor, the Ontario Court of Appeal judge who headed public inquiries into the complicity of Canadian officials in the torture of Maher Arar and the fatal failings of the water system in Walkerton, Ont., is headed back to private practice.

On Wednesday, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP is to announce that Mr. O'Connor, who retired as associate chief justice in December, has taken a post as counsel to the firm – the same firm he left in 1998 to take his seat on the Court of Appeal.

Mr. O'Connor, 71, says he will offer strategic advice to clients and mentor young lawyers in BLG's large litigation department. In an interview, he offered a preview of his sage advice from the other side of the bench. His first tip for young litigators? Be yourself.

Story continues below advertisement

"Whatever your personality is, it's fine. Don't try to be Clarence Darrow or Eddie Greenspan or somebody else," Mr. O'Connor said, although he added that lawyers should "avoid having annoying mannerisms or ways to speak."

The fatal error for lawyers, he says, is overdoing it: "Don't overstate your case. If anything, the more persuasive thing for a lawyer to do is to almost understate a point. ... The judge will reach the extra yard that you want him or her to go. The worst thing you can do to harm your credibility is overstate your point."

Mr. O'Connor worked as a litigator with what was then called Borden Elliott starting in 1980. He had been a criminal lawyer early in his career, as well as serving as a magistrate in Yukon – essentially a criminal court trial judge. He also taught at the University of Western Ontario. While at Borden Elliott, he did a wide range of litigation, including securities and insolvency cases.

Mr. O'Connor says he may also offer his services as a mediator and arbitrator – he called it "private judging" – like an increasing number of retired judges. While he has already fielded calls requesting his services as a mediator or arbitrator, he said his central focus will be his work with BLG.

Mr. O'Connor says he won't work as a litigator himself, as he does not believe former judges should appear in court: "I won't go to court. There's a debate on it. My view of it, quite strongly, it is inappropriate."

Looking back on his 15 years as a judge, during which he wrote many appeal judgments and oversaw two wrenching high-profile public inquiries, he says he will miss it: "I loved being a judge ... It was a privilege. It was certainly the highlight of my life."

But at 71, he said he decided to retire and return to private practice while he still could, partly attracted by the chance to teach young lawyers.

Story continues below advertisement

Several high-profile judges have returned to law firms in recent years. Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Ian Binnie, who retired from the court in 2011, joined Toronto firm Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP last year.

(Jeff Gray is a Globe and Mail Law Reporter.)

Return to Streetwise home page.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter