The job market on Bay Street is holding strong

You can thank cannabis and blockchain for that
You can thank cannabis and blockchain for that

Back in 2016, the job market on Bay Street looked bleak. The largest 15 law firms in Toronto had hired back 184 articling students as first-year associates. In the previous two years, that number sat at 197 and 196. The reason for the drop-off was clear: the largest firms were outsourcing an increasing amount of routine legal work, meaning they didn’t need to take on as many junior associates.

There was no cause for optimism at the time, but something surprising happened. In 2017, those same firms hired back 208 articling students. And at the conclusion of the 2017–18 articling term, they hired back 197, according to exclusive numbers that PrecedentJD collects each year on the Hireback Watch. The market had somehow regained its footing.

But how? To be sure, the strength of the overall economy has played a key role. But two new industries have also buoyed the job market: cannabis and blockchain.

new money alina skyson webThis October, weed will become legal across Canada. In anticipation of that moment, the country’s licensed cannabis producers — there are now 113 of them — have turned to Bay Street with an endless list of legal questions. “It’s generating a lot of regulatory work,” says Adam Lepofsky, president and founder of the legal recruiting firm RainMaker Group. “At first, the profession shied away from this industry. But in the past two years, almost every major firm has launched a cannabis team.”

In that same timespan, we’ve seen the rise of blockchain. The technology — which, in essence, is an ultra-secure ledger that tracks digital information — powers most of the world’s cryptocurrencies. But the technology has also spawned a raft of companies that hope to revolutionize other industries, from retail to medicine. And these companies need legal help with, well, everything. If they want to go public, they need to hire a capital-markets lawyer; as they build up a staff, they need employment counsel. On top of that, it’s not always clear how current technology legislation applies to blockchain. The end result: companies need a lot of advice from experienced lawyers. “The growth of blockchain will directly increase the need for legal advice,” says Usman Sheikh, the national head of Gowling WLG’s blockchain group. “Because of that, more and more lawyers will need to get themselves up to speed.”

The firm’s Toronto office has a team of about 20 lawyers — who work in a range of practice areas, from litigation to securities — that regularly advise clients in the blockchain sphere. In the past three months, the firm added two new associates to its capital-markets group to help meet the ever-increasing demand in blockchain, cannabis and other emerging markets.

Over at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, the blockchain revolution is also on full display. One year ago, several lawyers at the firm dedicated a small amount of their practice to blockchain-related files. “Today, more than 10 people spend a considerable amount of time on these issues,” says Blair Wiley, a partner in the corporate group, who leads the firm’s blockchain practice. “It’s an exciting time. For young lawyers who are ready to embrace the world of new technology, the sky is the limit.”

This story is from our Fall 2018 Issue.

Illustration by Alina Skyson