The new guy in town

Today, Richard Ogden is a top Toronto litigator. But when he came to Canada eight years ago, he had to start all over again
Today, Richard Ogden is a top Toronto litigator. But when he came to Canada eight years ago, he had to start all over again

New Zealanders are known for their love of travel. But it was Richard Ogden’s love for his wife-to-be — as well as law — that brought him to Canada and an uphill battle to become a successful lawyer here.

Ogden first met fellow New Zealander Alexandra Gillespie in grade school, and they ended up crossing paths on two other continents. When she landed a job teaching English literature at the University of Toronto in 2004, he moved with her to Canada that summer (they married a few months later).

But while Ogden had passed the bar in 1999, he had limited experience in the field — just a year splitting his time between human rights law and working as a duty counsel — by the time he relocated.

Initially, he was able to leverage his background in Aboriginal rights, including his in-progress PhD from Cambridge and teaching experience in both New Zealand and England on the topic to land a part-time teaching position at U of T’s Faculty of Law.

But Ogden wanted to branch out from academia. To practice law here, he would have to update his credentials. “You keep thinking that you’ve done your last exam,” says Ogden with a smile. “But then someone else puts an exam in front of you.”

Post-exams, Ogden had to find an articling position, competing with young grads. After sending out about 50 résumés, he got one offer — from the Constitutional Law Branch at the Ministry of the Attorney General. Since it didn’t start for another year, he occupied himself in the meantime by doing legal research, chipping away at his degree and renovating his house. “You do whatever you can to keep your mind from being taken over.”

Finally, Ogden was called to the bar in 2009 and got a job as a senior policy advisor at the First Nation and Métis Policy and Partnerships Office at the Ministry of Energy. But he had his sights set on private practice.

In 2010, Ogden heard through a family friend that WeirFoulds LLP was hiring. He approached the firm before it posted the job, got it and quickly started making his mark there as a litigator.

His flexibility and wide-ranging experience became assets, as did, he admits, his Kiwi accent — which Canadians seem to love, even during long, drawn-out court proceedings. “The trick is being able to get on with people, and being open to new challenges. I have managed to go into litigation because I am used to picking up new knowledge and skills.”

Bryan Finlay, Q.C., partner emeritus at WeirFoulds, considers Ogden a special talent: “His energy combined with his brightness and eagerness to do an excellent job are why he’s been so valuable.”

Some of his work includes a $100-million cross-border securities class action, the defence of a $495-million breach of contract claim regarding a proposed wind farm and large negligence and malicious prosecution claims.

He’s also become a passionate community activist. He volunteers with the South Etobicoke Environmental Liaison Committee, which recently convinced the City of Toronto to study the air quality in South Etobicoke.

Ogden has not forgotten his struggles to find a home in Canada: he mentors students at WeirFoulds and advises foreign lawyers trying to get qualified in Ontario.

“Richard’s continued contributions to the profession and the community at large are in the finest tradition of the bar,” says Finlay. And the Ontario bar is lucky to have him.

The Lowdown: Richard Ogden

Year of Call: 1999 (New Zealand) and 2009 (Ontario)
Current Job: Associate at WeirFoulds LLP
If I wasn’t a lawyer I’d be: A builder
What I value most: Family
Favourite thing about Canada: Summer at a cottage
Pet peeve: People who walk slowly in front of me

Photography by Margaret Mulligan