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Lawyer Mohammad Ali Raza landed in Halifax in 2014, having worked for a decade overseas in the oil and gas industry in Europe and the Middle East. Ten days after his arrival, he sent out emails to the CEOs of three Halifax law firms, not necessarily looking for a job but for advice on how to continue his career in his newly adopted country.

Raza met all three for coffee, but it was Danny Gallivan of Cox & Palmer who made it happen. “During our first meeting, he said, ‘Would you like to come work for us?’” Raza remembered. “I said, ‘Sure? Why not?’” He’s been there ever since. “This is the longest place I’ve worked. It’s been great.” Starting as a paralegal with the firm, Raza transitioned to his law practice after passing the bar in 2016.

Gallivan’s faith in Raza was not misdirected as the lawyer, now a partner in the firm, was named a winner of the 2023 Lexpert Rising Stars Award, an honour given to lawyers under 40 who have made outstanding contributions in their careers thus far. Raza—who joked he just got in under the wire with the under-40 requirement—said the win was “humbling,” especially as it’s chosen by legal peers. “This is appreciation from your own colleagues, which is the best, because they know, they really know, what you go through,” he said. “The acknowledgment from my colleagues takes life to a very different level. It’s been a lot of hard work to restart my career.”

Five years ago, then-manager partner Kevin Latimer had nothing but praise for his colleague when Raza was made partner at the firm. “He’s a highly personable guy with a genuine interest in people in their challenges and opportunities,” Latimer said at the time. “He’s a superb professional with a terrific work ethic, second to none, and someone who has a positive attitude that’s infectious, both inside and outside the workplace.”

Before coming to Canada, Raza had a thriving legal career as an in-house counsel in the oil and gas sector in various parts of the world. But living apart from his wife Maliha Azhar, who had followed her parents to Halifax in 2007, was proving challenging, especially after they had their first child in 2011. The couple have since had a second child. So in 2014, he packed up that part of his career and started the path to re-establish his professional life in Nova Scotia. Like many immigrants, he found the process was not as fast or as easy as he’d hoped.

“When I moved here … I thought I’d land here and take care of my (bar) exams, which is the biggest challenge in immigration for professions – the reaccreditation,” he said. Raza also discovered that his expertise in oil and gas was not especially sought in Halifax, so he’s created a more generalist practice for himself. “I found my experience and expertise could be easily transferable,” he said. “I went from being a very specialized lawyer and went the other way and became a generalist. Now my practice is general corporate council and I do a lot of mergers and acquisitions, buying businesses, setting up businesses, and large infrastructure projects. Raza said he is thriving with the diversity.

“Clients now include everything from restaurants to a large multimillion-dollar energy company. It’s a nice mix. I love it.” Along with his professional contributions, Raza has been involved with various volunteer efforts since moving to Halifax:

  • Establishing the Pakistani Canadian Association of Nova Scotia
  • Serving on the board of Feed Nova Scotia
  • Serving on the advisory committee for the Most Inspiring Immigrants of Atlantic Canada ceremony (also a 2020 recipient)
  • An advisor for the NS International Connectors Program 
  • A participant in the Halifax Partnership Program
  • A participant in the ISANS Workplace Placement Program

Raza admits he fully expected to land in Nova Scotia, grab his law license and move his family to Toronto or out west. There were also times when he questioned his decision to pack in his high-flying international career. But 10 years in, he has a different perspective and lots of gratitude. “I’m very lucky. Not everyone gets to enjoy what I do, what I have. I was able to recover from the typical trauma associated with immigration. I’ve gotten beyond that very well thanks to my colleagues and supporters around me who’ve always believed that I’d work hard.”

Pat Lee

Pat Lee is a writer/contributor for My Halifax Experience and My East Coast Experience

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