Bay Street cuts more first-year associate jobs // On the Record

But that’s not necessarily a terrible thing

By Daniel Fish

On Tuesday September 6th, 2016


The fact that the job market for junior lawyers on Bay Street took a dive this year is hardly a surprise. It’s been shrinking, on a regular basis, over the past seven years. Back in 2010, the 16 historically largest law offices in Toronto hired back 224 articling students as first-year associates. And this past year, those same firms hired back 188 students — a 16-percent drop.

These numbers prompt a delicate question: is the broader legal market in a tailspin? “I don’t think so,” says Carrie Heller, president of The Heller Group, a legal recruitment agency in Toronto. “There are still big deals happening in the corporate world and firms are busy. So the market is not weak. But it is changing.”

Take document review and due diligence: a mere 10 years ago, such tasks were mainstays of a rookie lawyer’s job description. No longer. More and more firms, says Heller, now outsource that work to contract lawyers who cost far less than associates. So firms may be just as busy as they were last year, but they can do the same amount of work with a shallower pool of juniors.

There’s another reason to be optimistic. Though first-year hiring on Bay Street has wilted, the number of job opportunities in some areas of law has grown. One of the best examples is the rise of in-house departments. Since 2005, the number of in-house lawyers in Ontario has mushroomed from about 3,400 to nearly 4,700. That’s an increase of 38 percent.

And that surely, says Heller, has offset some of the losses on Bay Street. “Companies are doing more and more routine work themselves. Some in-house departments now function as mini-law firms.”

Heller adds that the junior-associate job market at the largest firms is a poor proxy for the legal economy as a whole. “I wouldn’t look at these numbers and say, ‘Well, the legal market is deteriorating.’ I just don’t think that’s the case.”

For an in-depth look at the hireback numbers across Bay Street, visit our annual Hireback Watch.

Cover of the Fall Issue of Precedent Magazine

This story is from our Fall 2016 issue.