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Editor's Desk - Never fear, work is here

A survey came out the day I sat down to write this editorial that showed 45 per cent of law firms in Canada and the U.S. plan to hire more lawyers in the next year. That’s good news for lawyers, particularly associates, in my view. In Canadian Lawyer’s managing partner interview each month, I query law firm leaders on some of their challenges and economic forecasts for their firms. Almost universally over the past few months, they’ve told me that associate retention is one of their greatest challenges but also that they need new lawyers, particularly in business law firms.

This month, the outgoing chairman of Blakes, Jim Christie, tells me: “We continue to have a need to attract and recruit lots of students, young lawyers.” Last month, from Alberta, Jerri Cairns of Parlee McLaws said: “I see that strong economy as continuing to drive demand for sophisticated, effective, and practical legal advice to clients to assist them in their ongoing successes and business endeavours.” And in February, Borden Ladner Gervais’ Sean Weir also noted the need for a strong pool of young lawyers, which BLG goes to great lengths to attract and retain. “We invest a lot in education and programs and do a lot of intensive training from new associates to junior partners,” he said.

As I said, all good news for lawyers. A few other tidbits about the legal business scene have been gleaned from these interviews. The best news is Canadian law firms don’t foresee laying off any lawyers even though the general economic outlook isn’t particularly rosy. What will see a shift are the areas of practice expected to grow over the next year. “I think we are starting see a change in the nature of the work our clients are asking us to assist on: obviously less big-ticket M&A, although there continues to be a reasonably good stream of mid-size M&A work; more restructuring and insolvency-related work; and I think we’ll see an increase in litigation as we go forward,” says Christie in this month’s interview. He’s already seeing the growth there. That’s backed up by the above-mentioned survey, conducted by Robert Half Legal, that reports bankruptcy, litigation, and ethics and corporate governance are the hot specialty growth areas.

Both Christie and Weir, though, noted that Canada’s business environment is pretty crowded, and any major growth in legal work is unlikely to come at home. “International growth is huge for us. Now 25 per cent of the firm’s revenue is from offshore sources,” said Weir. BLG doesn’t have overseas offices; however, Blakes does and counts on them for its growth as well. Not only does Blakes have a China office with both Canadian and Chinese lawyers but, at home, has a strong practice group that supports its growing Chinese client pool.

And while no Canadian firms are going this route yet, the newest booming market appears to be the Middle East. For example, in early April, it was reported that U.K. magic circle firm Allen & Overy had launched a major recruitment drive in order to add up to 20 associates and partners to its United Arab Emirates’ office. Dubai is also a hotspot. Many European law firms are also starting to look at the emerging markets of Eastern Europe, such as Romania and the Ukraine, as their next lands to conquer. Already a number of U.K. firms have expanded into the region. And, mark my words, once India opens its borders to foreign law firms, there’ll be an explosion of growth in that legal market.

Lots to think about and many opportunities are out there for lawyers at all stages of their careers. The unstable global economy doesn’t seem to be hurting the legal profession very much, which is good news if you’re a lawyer!