A Chance Visit to NYC Changed His Life
Civil Litigator Maurice Benzaquen Remembers His Time at Touro
As a first-year student at the University of Toronto, Maurice Benzaquen was happy to visit a friend who lived in New York for a weekend in the early 90s. What he didn’t know was that his friend had surreptitiously arranged for him to meet with the then-dean of Touro and give him a tour of the school’s New York City campus. The meeting and tour would change Benzaquen’s life.
“At the university, I saw these small class sizes,” recalled Benzaquen, now an experienced personal injury attorney, mediator, and arbitrator in Toronto. “At the University of Toronto, there were 1200-1400 students in a class—even in the small tutorials, there were 375. I saw these classes at Touro with 10-20 students and the professors were answering questions. I thought to myself: this is something different and special.”
He received a letter of permission from the University of Toronto to accept credits from Touro for a semester, but after that one semester, Benzaquen knew he had found his place.
My time at Touro remains my most life-changing experience in respect to the quality of the teachers, the education, the relationships developed, and the experiences lived. I’m quite proud to be a Touro alum. My memories and friends from Touro will last a lifetime.
“It literally was the best academic experience of my life: we had excellent rabbis and excellent secular teachers. I was surrounded by smart Jewish students, and I was studying in the greatest city in the world,” explained Benzaquen.
Benzaquen also credits his time at Touro with renewing his relationship to his Jewish heritage.
“Every rabbi had a different and unique style,” Benzaquen remembered. “Each one of them was extraordinary. Sometimes you go to these lectures and can’t wait for the next one. The rabbis were unique leaders in their academic fields. I always had an affinity for Talmud, but it was reignited by Touro.”
One teacher, Dr. Emil Kon, left a particular mark on him.
“Dr. Kon was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” said Benzaquen. “There was a part of organic chemistry where we needed to rotate elements in our mind in three dimensions and I just couldn’t see it. Dr. Kon tried ten different ways to get me to see it and eventually, it finally clicked, and I could see it forever. There’s no way I could ever have picked that up in a classroom of 400. Dr. Kon spent time with me, and he didn’t give up. It’s that personal attention when you’re having a difficulty that’s so vital.”
Benzaquen graduated in 1996 with a 3.93 GPA and served as student government president in his senior year.
“My time at Touro was totally unplanned, but I think it fit me in the sense that both the New York experience and the Jewish experience became the arrow in which the direction of my life took.”
When he returned home after finishing his undergraduate degree, Benzaquen opted against medical school and followed his original passion into law.
“I’ve always found that knowing the law is incredibly empowering,” said Benzaquen.
He attended Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, one of Canada’s top law schools. After graduation, Benzaquen worked in one of the country’s most prominent criminal defense firms, before moving to personal injury law. While he never did end up pursuing a medical degree, Benzaquen uses his knowledge of the sciences in his work as a mediator and personal injury lawyer.
“I deal with medical reports all the time,” he said. “Being familiar with the sciences allows me to analyze the medical details to better cross-examine doctors in a more advanced way.”
Benzaquen said the time and energy Dr. Kon spent with him all those years ago still affects him to this day.
“The way Dr. Kon took his time to teach me way, way beyond the call, I try to do that with young lawyers and students,” he said. “I want them to learn as much as possible.”
He summarized his experience at Touro.
“I started at the University of Toronto, considered one of the best schools in Canada; I went to Osgoode, one of the top three law schools in the country. My time at Touro remains my most life-changing experience in respect to the quality of the teachers, the education, the relationships developed, and the experiences lived. I’m quite proud to be a Touro alum. My memories and friends from Touro will last a lifetime.”
When Touro College launched a site in honor of the school’s 50th anniversary, Maurice Benzaquen, a successful Toronto-based personal injury attorney, mediator, and arbitrator, wrote in to describe his experiences almost thirty years ago in the university. Benzaquen spoke of how a chance visit to New York led to his enrolling in the school and how the relationships he made with his professors and fellow students had a lasting impact on him.
Benzaquen has worked as a civil litigator for over twenty years and currently is the Litigation Counsel for the City of Vaughan, a large regional municipality bordering Toronto, Canada. He said that the majority of his work is spent in personal injury law, but he also works as a mediator, which is a mandatory step in most civil cases in Toronto, and as an arbitrator where he issues binding judgments between parties in civil cases. In his impressive career, Benzaquen has worked for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and as counsel for Members of Ontario’s House of Commons. He has also served as in-house counsel for one of Ontario’s largest insurers.
Despite the many accolades Benzaquen has received throughout his career, when we asked about his most memorable cases, Benzaquen, who is of Moroccan descent, spoke about how he helped an injured Spanish laborer attain disability benefits from the government. “They denied his claim initially and since I’m fluent in Spanish, I was able to communicate with him and his doctor and challenge the decision,” said Benzaquen. “When he won the appeal that was probably the most meaningful decision, I’ve been a part of.”