Torys to open a Halifax office, where lawyers will be off the partnership track

Historically, when lawyers joined a top-tier firm, they knew the deal: work hard, find clients and you’ll make partner — but if you don’t get there after a certain number of years, you have to leave.

These days, however, some firms are creating alternatives to the so-called up-or-out model.

Consider the approach of Torys LLP. In the fall, the Bay Street firm will open a small office in Halifax, and from day one every lawyer — Torys expects to start with a staff of around six — will know that partnership is not in their future. But, unlike their big-city counterparts, those lawyers won’t be responsible for bringing in new business.

“It won’t appeal to someone who wants to move up the ranks in the traditional law firm way,” says Chris Fowles, a partner at Torys who is moving to Halifax to head up the office. But he hopes it will attract talented lawyers who would rather focus on the practice of law, rather than building a client base.

And, in Halifiax, they can do just that.

At the new location, which is part of Torys’ broader strategy to cut costs, lawyers will provide legal services — such as contract writing and due diligence — to clients across the country at reduced rates, taking advantage of the low overhead in Atlantic Canada. “Most of the work will come from Toronto,” says Fowles. In other words, Torys isn’t moving to Halifax to find clients — they’re going there to get work done.

As a result, there could be an opportunity for more work-life balance. “They’re still going to be working regular business hours,” says Fowles. “But they won’t have the same cocktail party duties they might otherwise feel they’d have to do if they were on the partnership track.”

Fowles says plenty of firms are making an effort to accommodate lawyers with less traditional career goals. “Generally speaking,” he explains, “law firms — even in Toronto — are starting to move away from the up-or-out model.”

Read more: After the collapse of Heenan Blaikie LLP, founding partner Peter Blaikie told Precedent that, in fact, there are many partners who would prefer to be senior associates.

Photo by Chaf Haddad

More than 80 percent of Toronto Heenan Blaikie lawyers have new jobs

After Heenan Blaikie LLP imploded in February, almost 170 Toronto lawyers were out of work, scrambling to find new positions.

We wanted to know if the legal job market, already stretched thin, could absorb the influx of lawyers. So we tracked down all the former Toronto Heenan lawyers and published, in late March, how many had found new jobs — and today, we added the location of three more ex-Heenan lawyers.

All told, our research shows that at least 138 — more than 80 percent — of lawyers from Heenan Blaikie’s Toronto office are now employed.

Browse our complete chart to see where each lawyer has landed.

Peter Blaikie to young lawyers — think twice about becoming a partner at a large firm

Less than a month after Heenan Blaikie LLP announced its dissolution, the firm is officially dead: its offices, once home to more than 500 lawyers, will be empty by the end of the day.

Precedent spoke to Peter Blaikie, the firm’s co-founder and managing partner until 1993, who has the following advice for young lawyers today: partnership, particularly in a large firm, is not for everyone. And for some people, it’s probably a bad idea.

Most partners, he explains, have no interest in taking on the responsibilities of ownership — which is what being a partner is all about.

“My instinct is that the vast majority of partners at law firms do not think of themselves as owners,” says Blaikie. “They don’t ask questions about how the place is run, or think about where the firm is going or what the vision is.”

If a lawyer has no interest in these issues, he says, then there is no good reason to become a partner. “I think some partners would rather be non-equity partners or senior associates than full partners.”

Even money, says Blaikie, isn’t a sufficient reason to join partnership.

As Blaikie explains, if the finances of a firm go sour, partners are on the hook — something that the recent history of Heenan Blaikie makes clear. 

“I haven’t the faintest idea what the final result will be of the dissolution of Heenan Blaikie, but there are certainly many partners who still have skin in the game,” he says, adding that many former Heenan partners are likely to lose the capital they contributed to the firm in order to join partnership.

Moreover, says Blaikie, anyone whose sole motivation is money shouldn’t be practising law.

“Let’s be honest about it, you can be sure that lots of senior partners at Canadian law firms earn more than $1 million a year,” he says. “But that’s chump change in comparison to what you can earn in the investment world. If all you want is money, you might as well go to Wall Street and work at Goldman Sachs.”

In the end, says Blaikie, young lawyers need to ask themselves if they are prepared to accept the responsibilities and risks associated with partnership.

And therein lies the problem: Blaikie says the transition from associate to partner often happens without much thought.

“If you’ve been at a firm for nine or 10 years, and you’ve done good legal work, and you’ve been billing whatever the firm requires, and some clients think of you as their lawyer, then you’re going to become a partner almost automatically,” he says. “And I don’t think that’s a good idea for a great many people. If partnership on a Bay Street firm is a law student’s sole ambition, I personally think that’s a mistake.”

If you’re curious about what it costs to become a partner, read our previous story on capital contributions — or check out the entire Precedent Partnership Guide