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The legal job market shows signs of recovery

At some of the largest firms on Bay Street, business is booming
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At some of the largest firms on Bay Street, business is booming
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A whole lot has happened in the past decade. First, the 2008 financial crisis shook the Canadian legal industry hard. Money-making deals came to a screeching halt. Six years later, Heenan Blaikie LLP, one of the largest firms in Canada, imploded. “That really scared lawyers,” recalls Salima Alibhai, co-founder and partner at ALT Recruitment Partners. “They were worried that the market might head into a tailspin.”

Today, close to 10 years after the onset of the global recession, we’re finally seeing signs of a turnaround. The proof is in the numbers. This summer, the largest 16 law offices in Toronto hired back 218 articling students as first-year associates, according to exclusive data on That’s way up from 188 students hired last year, and the highest number since 2012.

What’s the main cause? Business is booming. “Bay Street is busy,” says Shannon Leo, director of the associate and student programs at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, adding that “the economy was definitely a factor” when the firm made its hiring decision for the year. And, indeed, Cassels had a fantastic year: the firm hired back all 12 of its articling students.

Alibhai, for her part, agrees that the legal market is thriving and “will continue to be busy.” But that’s not the only reason for the hiring spike. In the past year, Alibhai has seen firms add extra juniors because a growing number of associates are going in-house.

The rise of in-house departments is, in fact, another major story of the past decade. From 2008 to 2016, the number of in-house lawyers in Ontario has mushroomed from 3,635 to 5,006. “It used to be that large corporations only sought out senior lawyers,” says Alibhai. “But, in the past year and a half, they’ve started scooping up junior lawyers.” Many associates jump at the chance to leave, chasing the promise of better work-life balance. This has forced firms to up their recruitment numbers, as they anticipate that attrition. “They’re being proactive to make sure they have enough homegrown lawyers.”

Toronto’s recovering hireback numbers show the highest percentage of students hired back as first-year associates that we’ve ever seen:


Total Toronto articling students

Total Toronto hirebacks

Total Toronto opt-outs*

Overall Toronto hireback rate

2017 259 218 13 89%
2016 255 188 27 82%
2015 277 200 18 77%
2014 282 201 23 78%
2013 297 205 19 74%
2012 300 218 15 77%
2011 299 212 29 79%
2010 322 224 31 77%
2009 325 211 17 69%

* Opt-outs refer to students who chose not to be considered for hireback. Opt-outs were also subtracted from the total number of articling students before we calculated the hireback rate.

Fall 2017 CoverThis story is from our 10th anniversary issue, published in Fall 2017.



Photo: iStock