The legal market in Canada is constantly evolving. Here are some of the trends in the legal market in order to better help job-seekers navigate the changing landscape.
One of the most evident trends in the Toronto legal industry is the move of more work and lawyers to in-house legal departments, according to Travis Usher, Recruitment Consultant at ZSA. “Long-gone are the days where a lawyer would spend 25 years or more in a firm, and move in-house to finish out the last five or ten years of his or her career in-house,” says Usher. “While that may be a bit of a caricature, the fact remains that more and more sophisticated and complex legal work is being done in-house by extremely impressive lawyers.”
Usher also observes that this trend is not limited to experienced lawyers, as there are increasingly more in-house opportunities for junior lawyers (even as junior as two years post-call). “The good news is that as the amount of work being kept in-house increases, more and more companies are looking for junior lawyers to join their legal teams.”
Lawyers are also moving in-house in order to diversify their careers, says Usher. “While some candidates are looking for better ‘work/life balance’, most I speak with want to become more involved and integrated with the business of a company. I think the distinction between ‘business advice’ and ‘legal advice’ is disappearing; they’re so intertwined these days as to be indistinguishable. Savvy lawyers recognize this and want to be a part of that trend.”
Mike Race, Client Partner at ZSA, has noticed that the Calgary legal market is showing signs of recovery after several stagnant years. “We’re seeing growth in private practice law firms as well as some hiring activities in-house,” says Race. “There are still a lot of senior in-house counsel whose roles were hit by the recent downturn, so competition is hot for the few roles now coming up. In terms of private practice, the law firms have generally reduced lawyer headcount compared to a year or two ago, so the current positions tend to be in targeted key areas of growth for each firm, not across the board.”
In terms of Vancouver legal market, Race has observed several noteworthy trends. “The securities market has been getting busier, both an uptick in mining work (after some significant lows in recent years) and across a range of other industries, including technology. Commercial real estate remains hot and there is a shortage of experienced lawyers at all levels for the amount of work in the Vancouver market. Commercial litigation is another busy area.”
Race feels that the global law firms merging with local Vancouver firms over the last couple of years will continue to change the legal services market. “Back in Australia, I saw the return of significant legal groups in the Big 4 Accounting Firms, taking both top tier lawyers and work away from the law firms. It seems to be happening in most of the Western world, but in Canada seems largely confined to Immigration and Tax practice so far. I expect that will change.”
“The other trend in Vancouver legal market is that rising property prices are pushing support staff further and further out of the city. The support staff end up finding local employment outside the downtown core, so downtown law firms are generally struggling to adequately staff their support teams,” observes Race.
One of the continuing trends in the Montreal legal market is the high demand for bilingual assistants and paralegals. According to Myriam Lapierre, Recruitment Consultant at ZSA, “bilingualism is more important than ever for legal assistants and paralegals. I have seen many amazing candidates who have great potential end up being stuck because they can’t work efficiently in both English and French.”
Lapierre also notes that workforce restructuring is more common than ever, resulting in one assistant supporting several lawyers. “More and more candidates ask me whether firms and companies have undergone restructuring recently, as they are reluctant to change jobs just for a new challenge when they know their current job is relatively secure.”
Another trend Lapierre has noticed is that some firms and companies are starting to allow their assistants and paralegals to work from home on occasion. Lapierre believes that the possibility of working from home will benefit both employers and employees, as it will motivate employees to try and earn the right to work from home and the employer may retain valued employees who are seeking better work/life balance.