Claude Pensa is a name familiar to many in London and, truly, across the globe. Whether through the prominent law firm that bears his name, the local charity he created to help feed those in-need, or his longstanding reputation as a visionary in the legal world, Claude has dedicated much of his life to serving others.
Called to the bar in 1956, Claude spent almost six decades at the helm of Harrison Pensa LLP working with local, national and international clients, and today it is widely considered to be one of Southwestern Ontario’s foremost full-service law firms. In 1962, he started Giffen Pensa with Jim Giffen. Claude then went on to form Pensa and Associates in 1985, and Harrison Pensa in 1999 following a merger with Harrison Elwood. Harrison Pensa has since grown to a team of over 60 talented lawyers and litigators supported by over 100 staff.
Throughout his career, Claude was a highly respected mediator, arbitrator and litigator, and he has seen the industry change immensely, from a time when advertising was not allowed to one where law firm billboards and commercials are the norm. Adapting with this ever-transforming environment, Claude remained steadfast in his commitment to high-quality work and standards – qualities that continued to set him apart from others in his field – and he exemplified these traits with his philosophy centered on the client: Rule #1 – the customer is always right; Rule #2 – if the customer is wrong, refer to Rule #1.
In 1976 Claude was selected to the Queen’s Counsel, due to his exceptional merit and contribution to the legal profession. He appeared in trials courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada and was appointed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1998. Claude served, for decades, as General Counsel to The London Public Board of Education and The Thames Valley District School Board. As counsel for the former, he appeared on the Separate School Funding Reference that went up the Supreme Court of Canada. Claude distinguished himself in that matter, which was one of the most significant Constitutional law cases of its time. Additionally, when asked to consider an appointment to the what was then the Supreme Court of Ontario, Claude declined – not once, but twice! The first time was when he had four young children and did not want to give up the significant time with his family that would be necessary for the role. On the second occasion, Claude decided it best to remain with his firm and the team of associates he had mentored and seen develop into exceptional litigators. This breadth of experience and expertise led to Claude’s induction as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which recognizes the best of the courtroom bars in the United States and Canada and is given to those who demonstrate they are skilled trial lawyers as well as outstanding moral citizens. In 2007, he also received the Law Society Medal from The Law Society of Upper Canada, a top honour that acknowledged his outstanding service within the profession.
When asked to describe him, Claude’s peers say he is an avid reader, a world traveler, a devoted father and grandfather, and a genuine champion of charitable causes and human rights. Claude is extremely passionate about politics and has acted as campaign chair for various candidates for public office. He has supported and fundraised for many organizations, including the Grand Theatre, The Boys and Girls Club of London and the United Way of London and Middlesex. In 2003, alongside his beloved wife Elaine, Claude created London Lawyers Feed the Hungry, which since its founding has provided more than $25,000 annually to many of the local community’s emergency meal programs. In addition to forming this charitable organization, Claude was Chair of the Board of Governors of The University of Western Ontario and a member of the boards of Union Gas, Biotech London Council, the Heart Fund, C.N.I.B. and Regina Mundi College. The value of caring for others is also something Claude embedded into the culture of Harrison Pensa, where philanthropy is deeply rooted in the firm’s traditions that continue to this day. Claude is a proud Londoner and his tireless dedication to helping and mentoring others has made lasting changes in the community he loves to call home.