Crime and accomplishment // Best Practices

Nader Hasan
Criminal lawyer Nader Hasan makes time — a lot of time — for the underdog

By Allan Britnell

On Wednesday December 18th, 2013


Nader Hasan has an Ivy League degree, he passed both the Ontario and the New York bar exams and he once matched his billable hours in pro bono work. He also made partner in just two years at Clayton Ruby’s criminal law firm.

You won’t be surprised, then, to learn he drinks his morning coffee in the shower. How else would he get it all done?

Hasan initially studied pre-med at Harvard. In his spare time, he ran an ESL program for refugees from war-torn places such as Somalia and Kosovo. The stories he heard about injustice inspired him to “do something about it.” For him, that meant switching gears and choosing law school over med school. He graduated magna cum laude — among several honours and awards — with a BA in government. Next up was a master’s of philosophy from the University of Cambridge and then a law degree at the University of Toronto.

After clerking for Canadian Supreme Court justice Marshall Rothstein, Hasan moved to New York to work as an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, a large corporate firm, in 2007. The firm has a long history of pursuing social causes and Hasan quickly fell in step.

In one of his three years there, he put in 1,500 hours of pro bono work on top of his 1,500 billable hours, which averages out to eight hours a day, 365 days a year. “There were long stretches of 15-hour days,” he says, but then tries to downplay it. “Three thousand hours in New York is not typical, but it’s also not unusual.” Much of that time was spent working on defence appeals for the wrongfully convicted. He also won a settlement for a prisoner assaulted by federal prison guards.

But he and his fiancé, Penelope Ng — then doing corporate law at Jones Day’s New York office, now an associate at Toronto family law firm Epstein Cole LLP — always planned to come back home to Toronto. The chance came in 2010 when Hasan’s friend Gerald Chan recommended him for a position at Ruby’s office.

The next three years saw his superstar status grow. Hasan has now appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada six times, arguing that Crown attorneys shouldn’t be allowed to secretly conduct background checks on potential jurors, and that warrants should be required before police can search someone’s workplace computer, to cite two cases.

Other cases he’s worked on range from the high-profile — working alongside Ruby in a conflict of interest charge against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford — to the seemingly hilarious — he defended a naturist who drove up to a Tim Hortons drive-through in his birthday suit.

One thing this overachiever can’t master: the hot Toronto housing market. At press time, Hasan and Ng — who’ve been together since their first week of law school in 2003 — were unsuccessfully trying to buy a home close to downtown near a good elementary school (they don’t have kids yet, but plan to). Presumably, they’re looking for a house with a library for Hasan to indulge one of his few non-work related passions. “I know it’s really nerdy, but I read a lot of biographies,” he says, most recently of Lyndon B. Johnson and Joseph Kennedy, Sr. (father of the assassinated U.S. president).

Hasan has another minor Achilles heel: he struggles to heed one piece of advice from his boss and mentor, Ruby. “He told me, ‘Don’t let the wins get you high for more than a day, and don’t let the losses get you down for more than a day.’” Following the first part helps keep him grounded, but he admits: “The losses still get me down.”

The Lowdown

Year of call: 2007 (Ontario); 2008 (New York State)
Current job: Partner, Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan Barristers
The thing I covet most: Courtside tickets for the Toronto Raptors
If i weren’t a lawyer: I’d find other ways to take on the establishment
Pet peeve: Inefficiency
The thing most people don’t know about me: The first language I spoke was Norwegian. (My mother is from Norway; my father from Bangladesh)

Photography by Margaret Mulligan