Vancouver legal recruitment: Fall 2018 market update

September 24, 2018

The Vancouver legal market may be approaching peak market activity in the fall of 2018, with nearly every firm in the market struggling to attract and retain associate lawyer talent. Associate salaries have increased at nearly every firm this year, with rumors a second adjustment to salaries may occur before the end of 2018 in an attempt by some to gain even the smallest edge in the hyper competitive marketplace for legal talent.


While signing bonuses are most common in the final quarter of the year (typically to help offset any earned annual bonuses top talent may be leaving behind by moving at the end of the year), we’ve seen signing bonuses regularly this year as law firms use every and all tools available to them to attract top talent in the current market climate. Notably, we’ve seen signing bonuses as high as $50,000 rejected by candidates, opting to either stay with their current firm or take a competing offer where the candidate reasonably believed there was an even greater long-term opportunity for them.


While there is no doubt we are facing one of the most active lawyer recruitment markets in recent memory, one of the more common questions we field from our clients on the subject is: why is this happening? 


Vancouver is facing perhaps the perfect storm for associate lawyer recruitment, with the following factors all converging simultaneously in the market:


  • Strong regional economy – BC has been among Canada’s growth leaders for most of the past decade but grew at its fastest pace following the recession in 2017.


  • Expensive real estate market – the Vancouver real estate market has been one of the hottest markets in the country (if not world), with many associates believing they are functionally priced out of the market. An increasing number are opting to explore more distant markets (Vancouver Island and the Okanagan most notably) in part to access more affordable housing.


  • Increased in-house recruitment – the Vancouver market has seen a significant increase in in-house counsel roles over the past two years and has also seen the fastest increase in average annual salary for in-house counsel of all the markets in Canada (download our 2018 in-house counsel compensation survey for full details).


  • Succession – like all markets, Vancouver is now facing the succession and retirement issues the market has long warned were coming: they are now upon us, and firms are grappling to properly transition significant practices to the next (and smaller) generation of talent, adding further pressure to the available talent pool.


  • Reduced talent pool in transactional practices – for many firms in BC, the transactional practice groups rely on a robust mining industry to drive productivity. From 2012-2016, the mining industry was in decline, with reduced activity on both deals and exploration negatively contributing to firm activity in this area. For many firms, this led to reducing hire back decisions for students, creating effectively smaller pools of available talent as they matured in practice. (As they say, you can’t create a 2015 call in 2018). Today, this gap nearly perfectly aligns with the greatest demand for talent, creating a compounding effect on the aforementioned factors in the market.


Overall, a tight talent market makes your lawyer recruitment strategy that much more critical, as candidates contemplating a move will typically have multiple options when exploring their career opportunities. Knowing your firm’s narrative and how you distinguish in market will be critical to success in recruitment in the current climate.


If your firm is considering hiring legal talent, get in touch with me below for a confidential discussion on the market and your hiring options.


Warren Smith, Managing Partner

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