Why Bay Street has slashed nearly 50 articling jobs since 2010

By: September 1, 2015

What we can learn from the last six years of Precedent hireback numbers

Hireback Watch

For law students with hearts set on Bay Street, the nucleus of the Canadian legal world, it’s been a rough year. In fact, it’s been a rough six years: the pool of articling jobs at the 16 largest law offices in Toronto keeps shrinking.

In 2010, those same firms hired 322 articling students, according to hiring data Precedent tracks each year. Then in 2013, that number dropped to 297. And this year the number hit an all-time low, settling at just 277. All told, these firms are hiring 45 fewer students than they did a half-decade ago.

What’s behind the decline? One part of the answer is straightforward: Toronto law firms are not as busy as they were before the recession. “Firms are still being cautious about how many articling students they hire,” says Carrie Heller, president of The Heller Group, a legal recruitment agency in Toronto. But the market downturn, she adds, isn’t the whole story.

Historically, large firms have relied on articling students to complete the grunt work — say, document review on lawsuits or due diligence on corporate mergers. In recent years, however, firms have started outsourcing that work to specialized firms and contract lawyers, says Heller. Outsourcing, it turns out, is a lot cheaper than paying students. “And so,” says Heller, “firms may no longer need as many articling students to support these projects.”

There is one bit of good news: as Bay Street firms take on fewer articling students, they are hiring back a higher percentage of them as first-year associates. This year, the largest Toronto law offices hired back 77 percent of their students, up from 73 percent in 2013.

Still, Heller says that a surge in the number of articling jobs on Bay Street is unlikely. It’s not that firms are sinking — in fact, Heller says the market saw a slight uptick this year — but compared to the mid-aughts, business is still relatively cool. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” says Heller. “But I’d be surprised if student hiring returned to historical levels anytime soon.”

Now and then

A firm-by-firm look at the drop in Toronto articling jobs since 2010


Number of articling students in 2010

Number of articling students in 2015

Osler 2919
Norton Rose (previously Ogilvy Renault)1718
Bennett Jones1717=
Dentons (previously FMC)1416
Department of Justice146

Read our tips for how to land a big-firm job in Toronto’s shrinking market.

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