Blog post by Matthew Bota
For students thinking about applying to Harrison Pensa, you might have noticed that the firm was formed in 1999. However, you might not know that our predecessor firms, Harrison Elwood and Pensa & Associates, have histories going back decades. There are generations of stories built into the Harrison Pensa name and my hope is that this blog post will show that you’re applying to a firm with a rich history that is reflective of its reputation in the region.
Harrison Elwood can trace its roots back to around 1857, to a predecessor firm consisting of Verschoyle Cronyn and Frederick P. Betts. A publication printed at the time noted that the firm “[has] always had, if not the best, one of the best solicitors’ practices in London”, credited largely to the legal work sent from the Huron and Erie Mortgage Corporation, the Canada Trust Company and the Bank of Commerce. It wasn’t until 1934 that one of the later namesakes joined the firm. It was in that year that John D. Harrison joined a firm of two headed by Frederick C. Betts, son of Frederick P. Betts. The younger Betts was a member of parliament, elected to the House of Commons in 1935. The work of the firm was largely focused on mortgage and estate work, credited to the close relationship the firm continued to have with the Huron and Erie. A few years later, in 1938, Edward C. Elwood joined the firm out of law school at a monthly salary of $100. Thankfully, wages for articling students and junior associates have appreciated a little bit since then.
The story of Pensa & Associates goes back to 1962, when Claude Pensa and Jim Giffen formed Giffen Pensa. As two young lawyers forging their own path, Pensa and Giffen worked long hours, taking anything and everything that came in the door. The firm was guided by a principle that is still relevant for today’s young lawyers: you never know where the most insignificant assignment could ultimately lead in terms of building a practice. Evidence of the firm’s litigation prowess can be found in a 1967 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, Modde v Dominion Glass Co, which dealt with an oil and gas lease, argued by Claude Pensa himself. In 1985, Pensa and Giffen parted ways, and a group of eight started Pensa & Associates. This new firm prided itself on the fact that, as time went on and the firm grew, the people that joined the firm largely remained in the fold; a good test of the stability of a law firm. A number of loyal and productive insurance company clients entrusted the firm with its legal work, which likely helped to contribute to its stability.
These two firms steadily grew in both size and in clientele over the next number of years. While both firms maintained solicitor and litigation practices, Harrison Elwood continued its strong reputation for its solicitor work, while Pensa & Associates did the same on the litigation side. So it was a natural fit when, in 1999, the firms merged to form Harrison Pensa.
Here we are 17 years later, and the principles that guided Harrison Pensa’s predecessors can still be felt in the building today. Dedication to the client is the driving force in all of our practice groups. Coupled with this dedication to the client is a sense of loyalty to the firm. It is easy to individualize the practice of law, as so much of it comes down to individual efforts and accomplishments. However this loyalty to the firm forms a common bond among the individuals that makes Harrison Pensa a strong brand in the London legal community. If you decide to apply as a summer or articling student, I hope this blog opened your eyes to the firm’s history. The reputation HP has in London is reflective of decades of exceptional client service in the region.