Hireback Watch turns five

Precedent has been tracking the ups and downs of Bay Street hires for half a decade
Precedent has been tracking the ups and downs of Bay Street hires for half a decade

In 2009, the economic crisis hit the legal industry hard. But no one knew just how hard. So Precedent started surveying the 17 largest law offices in Toronto to see if hiring practices — specifically articling hirebacks — had changed. They had.

Now, five years later, the annual Hireback Watch has become one of the most popular features on Precedent’s website (find it at lawandstyle.ca/hireback).

A lot has been learned about student hiring in the last half-decade, and the news has not all been good. 2009 had a dismal 66 percent hireback rate, the lowest Precedent has ever recorded. The hirebacks then bounced back, peaking at 78 percent in 2011, but have been decreasing for two consecutive years, landing at 72 percent this year. Over this period, more than a quarter of articling students on Bay Street did not return as associates, a far cry from the days of guaranteed hirebacks. While this year’s hireback percentage is higher than 2009’s, the actual number of articling students at these firms has decreased seven percent from 338 in 2009 to 315 in 2013. In other words, the Bay Street pie is shrinking — meanwhile, the number of law grads looking for work in Ontario has been rising.

John Ohnjec, division director for lawyer-staffing firm Robert Half Legal (RHL), says firms are still cautious about hiring inexperienced lawyers, and predicts that hireback rates won’t change much in the next few years while the economy recovers.

“The best-case scenario is that we level off again at the 75–76 [percent] level for a year or two and then hope that within three years we break through into the 80s,” says Ohnjec. While the future doesn’t look as promising for recent grads, a 2013 study by RHL indicates that the current job market has placed a high demand on those who have a few years of experience in areas such as corporate law, litigation and corporate governance.

“Firms do expect to see an increase in hiring this year,” says Ohnjec. “But they will primarily be looking for individuals who are around the five-year level with strong business development skills.”

Top Toronto Hireback Firms
Hireback totals from 2009–2013 for the five firms with the best overall percentages

*Opt-outs were subtracted from the total number of articling students before hireback percentages were calculated