When Melissa Roth completed her articling term at Hicks Morley in Toronto, the firm hired her back as an associate — to work at its now-seven-lawyer office in Waterloo, a suburban region of 600,000 in southwestern Ontario. “I loved living in a big city,” she says. “To be honest, I had reservations about coming to a smaller place.” It’s been seven years since that moment. And in that time, Roth has turned into one of the area’s proudest residents.
The city itself teems with life. Uptown, you’ll find cafés and cocktail bars, each one chock full of young parents or recent graduates who work in the city’s thriving technology sector. Thanks to the University of Waterloo’s highly competitive engineering program, the city has the second-densest concentration of tech start-ups in the world. There is only one region with a higher spot on the list: Silicon Valley.
To practise law in Waterloo, therefore, means serving this high-flying industry. Roth, a management-side employment lawyer, represents a range of companies throughout the city, and that includes some in the technology space. “There’s plenty of work,” she says. “It’s a busy market.”
It’s also an exciting one. Ahsan Sadiq, a corporate partner at Miller Thomson LLP, has an impressive client roster that includes entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. “I do whatever it takes to help early-stage companies and their founders,” says the 44-year-old. “It’s not the right job for someone who wants to toil away in the halls of the law firm doing research.”
Sadiq and his wife, an artist, live in a “nice fenced house with a backyard, an art studio and a dog.” In Toronto, the same place would have cost double, perhaps triple, what they paid for it. The average detached house in Waterloo goes for about $575,000; in Toronto, however, the cost rises to a staggering $1.3 million.
But there is a catch. If you work in Waterloo, your compensation will take a hit — at least, in the early years. At Miller Thomson’s Toronto office, articling students earn about $75,000 a year, while their counterparts in Waterloo take home $54,000. “You have to really believe in yourself,” says Sadiq, “and understand that you’re playing for the long term.”
And on the subject of the long game, Waterloo is an ideal place to raise a family. “You’ve got the city, but you’re also surrounded by the country,” says Roth, who has two young children. “You can get a flavour of everything. There are a lot of great parks and trails. It’s nice to be able to drive 15 minutes and be at a farm, a conservation area or an apple orchard.”
The city’s future looks bright. Waterloo is growing faster than both the provincial and national average. Sahil Shoor, an associate at Gowling WLG, can attest to that statistic first-hand. “I moved to the city four years ago,” says the 30-year old, who practises municipal law and civil litigation. “And since then, I’ve seen a lot of young lawyers arrive. They all love it.”
Shoor, a small-time gym rat, has enjoyed the recent influx of spinning studios and boxing joints, no doubt a product of trendy newcomers. “Waterloo has become much more than just a student town,” he says. “It has so much to offer.”