Legal recruitment Canada: mid-year market update

June 27, 2018

Hard to believe we are halfway through 2018 already!  The legal recruitment market continues to move at a rapid pace, with demand notably on the uptick for associate talent in all the major Canadian markets.

Interestingly, perhaps the biggest news so far this year occurred in the US, when Millbank announced they were moving first year associate salaries to $190,000 USD per annum, setting off a chain reaction in the US market, effectively moving starting salaries across most of the major firms as a result.  It was only two years ago when Cravath began a ‘salary war’ in the US, moving first year associate salaries to $180,000 USD per annum after nearly a decade of stagnant compensation grids for major US firms.  This continued increase to associate salaries suggests the available talent pool remains extremely tight in the US, with compensation being one of the key tools the top firms have to distinguish from their mid-market peers.

For Canadian law firms, this may have two potential implications.  First, we may see further adjustments to local associate compensation grids, with increases having already occurred in both the Vancouver and Toronto markets this year.  Second, if associate talent remains in short supply in the US, be prepared for more active recruitment by US firms into the Canadian market.  This will put further pressure on the available Canadian talent pool, which may lead to outright bidding wars for talent, including salary increases and signing bonuses, as firms jockey for position with the best available talent by market.

For those practicing abroad, this may represent one of your best opportunities to come home. The market is exceptionally tight for associate talent in Canada and there may be a greater willingness by top Canadian firms to consider international practitioners, particularly those who may have gone abroad during the last up-market and have been waiting for a window to come home, and for those working in large scale, transactional-oriented practice groups.

Overall, the Canadian market continues to thrive with the demand for associate talent approaching peak market.  Having a clear plan for associate recruitment will be critical in this highly competitive market, something we would be happy to discuss with you in confidence.

Warren Smith, Managing Partner