News: What’s behind the shrinking pool of Bay Street articling jobs?

For students, the hireback stats look pretty scary. Back in 2009, Precedent surveyed the Toronto law offices that hired the most articling students to find out how many they hired back as first-year associates. Each year, we ask again and report those numbers online in our Hireback Watch. Over the last year, the number of articling jobs at the 16 offices that traditionally hire the most students fell from 297 to 282. Worse still, those numbers don’t include students from Heenan Blaikie LLP, which collapsed in February and, of course, won’t be hiring students in the future.

“If I were a law student looking for work on Bay Street, I would not find any of this encouraging,” says Jordan Furlong, legal consultant at Edge International. For the past 40 years, he explains, clients have blindly paid big legal fees for the work of students, at least in part. Now, that era is over: clients want lower costs, and they don’t think students, who spend most of their time completing routine legal tasks, are worth the money. For that reason, Furlong predicts that the number of articling gigs on Bay Street will continue to decline. “Firms everywhere are coming to the belated realization that they, not their clients, have to pay for student training.”

But the shrinking articling pool is only half the story: the proportion of articling students hired back is on the rise. This year, those 16 offices hired back 78 percent of students, up from 73 percent a year ago. In fact, the total number of students hired back remains steady, with 200 making the cut this year, compared to 204 in 2013.

A consistent influx of junior associates “means that firms are still looking to identify and invest in young talent,” says Adam Lepofsky, president and founder of the legal recruiting firm RainMaker Group. Despite the fall of Heenan Blaikie, stable hireback numbers indicate that firms “are optimistic about the next few years.”

Beyond hireback numbers, Lepofsky hopes recent growth in the American legal market — New York and California, in particular — will spill over into Canada within a year. “I’m getting demands from clients in the States that I haven’t gotten in a long time,” he says. “And generally our economy will follow the U.S. economy, especially in the business of law.”

The demand for legal work is hardly drying up, says Furlong. But that demand is not for junior lawyers — it’s for seasoned partners. As firms cut articling jobs, he says they’ll hire fewer first-years. The hireback rate could stay high, but Furlong expects the number of new lawyers on Bay Street to decline. “Firms are still overlawyered.” 

Bay Street looks bearish

In 2009, Blakes, Davies, McCarthys, Osler and Stikemans took on the most articling students at their Toronto offices. Since then, they’ve shed a combined 47 jobs, but the hireback rate at those firms has jumped up by 10 percent.

Toronto Articling Jobs










The biggest players, then and now

Toronto offices with the most students in 2009
Osler — 33
Stikemans — 33
Blakes — 29
McCarthys — 28
Davies — 22

Toronto offices with the most students in 2014
Blakes — 29
Torys — 25
Stikemans, Norton Rose — 20
BLG, McCarthys, Cassels — 19 

For a detailed rundown of all the numbers, check out our Hireback Watch 2014 chart.

Our top 5 stories of the year

With the Precedent team taking a break for the holidays, there’s no better time to catch up on our coverage of the year’s legal issues.

Here are five of the top stories from our website over the last 12 months. 


An inside look at how to make partner
Last winter, we asked industry insiders to reveal the secrets behind partnership. Here’s what they had to say.



Hireback Watch 2013
Toronto firms hired back fewer articling students as first-year associates compared to last year. Check out our firm-by-firm breakdown. 



Canada’s first bulletproof business suit
This fall, a Toronto retailer proved that cutting-edge technology can still look great on the catwalk. But are the clothes even legal?



The year’s most creative job search
A recent law school grad took out a classified ad to find an articling position. What were the results?




Ontario reveals two new options for law grads get licensed
Students can now become full-fledged lawyers — without articling — by taking the Law Practice Program (LPP).


Photo of Ryerson Univeristy: William Mewes

Brief: Hireback Watch turns five

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

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