Though Bay Street’s summer student job numbers hit their lowest point in a decade last year, 2018 is looking a lot more promising. According to PrecedentJD’s latest Summer Job Watch data — which tracks the number of second-year summer students hired for the upcoming summer by Toronto’s largest firms — the number of jobs has risen, compared to the last year, from 257 to 294.
This job market has yet to bounce back to 2008 levels — when firms took on 323 students — but the resurgence is a sign that the legal economy may be on the rebound. “Technology is booming in Toronto,” says Emily Lee, a partner at Toronto-based Alt Recruitment Partners. “A lot of the associates I meet with are busy with new startups.” She adds that there has been a general increase in the number of corporate transactions, a key profit centre at the largest firms.
This may explain the positive results of this year’s Summer Job Watch. “Firms are extremely busy and very actively seeking out mid-level positions,” says Lee. “This is a sign that they’re probably grooming new lawyers to develop into their busy practice areas.”
But Jordan Furlong, principal at the Ottawa-based legal-consulting firm Law21, isn’t convinced that Toronto’s student job market is on the upswing for the long haul. Since only three firms — Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP — accounted for the vast majority of this year’s increase in summer hires, he says the real story is about a few companies skewing the overall results.
Leading the pack is Blakes, which hired 37 students for 2018, an increase of 16 over last year. BLG hired nine additional students; Osler added six. Meanwhile, most of the others on the list remained steady.
“Hiring students is a little like making draft picks for a sports team: you’re anticipating your needs two to three years down the road,” says Furlong, speculating that these three firms may have specific initiatives underway. “Or they may have identified demographic shifts in their ranks. If some partners are retiring they may just want to load up on their youngest talent.”
Furlong would be surprised if Bay Street as a whole ever went back to its pre-recession glory days. But he recognizes it’s a possibility, albeit a small one in his opinion. “Law firms are like pack animals,” he says. “So maybe more firms will increase their hiring. Maybe these three firms really are harbingers of a new wave of summer-student hiring.”