Hiring for lawyers, legal staff ‘cooling’ in Vancouver and Toronto: Impact Recruitment survey 2023

Law firms being more 'strategic' in hiring, offering less flexible, remote work options

Hiring for lawyers, legal staff ‘cooling’ in Vancouver and Toronto: Impact Recruitment survey 2023

If you’re a lawyer or other legal professional thinking of making a move to another firm and figure you can write your own ticket – higher salary, remote work, and some other nice perks – you might want to think again. The hiring market, along with wages, has cooled somewhat.

That’s not to say firms aren’t hiring, says Mark Fenwick, senior vice president of corporate and professional services at Impact Recruitment. However, firms are taking a “much more strategic approach in 2023.”

Emphasis is now placed on finding the “right talent” for in-demand practice areas. Practice areas that remain steady include labour and employment law, and commercial real estate law, while commercial litigation, wills and estate litigation and family law are seeing a spike in demand. In contrast, residential real estate, corporate law, and personal injury are experiencing a dip in 2023.

“The hottest area we’re seeing in terms of client demand is commercial litigation, on both the lawyer and support staff sides,” says Fenwick. He notes that as corporate transactional work has slowed, “people are becoming more aggressive about collecting on unpaid revenue or protecting themselves.”

Family law and estate planning law has also remained very strong coming out of COVID, and labour and employment lawyers are still in demand, though not to the same extent.

Although legal professionals looking to move still have flexible and remote work arrangements at the top of the list, Fenwick says firms expect new hires to be in the office more.

The trend with new hires is that there seem to be fewer hybrid-based setups,” says Fenwick, noting that wording in job postings is not using the word “hybrid” and replacing it with “flexible.”

On the other side, Fenwick says, almost the first question that potential job candidates ask about a particular opportunity is whether the employer has a work-from-home setup. For many, if the answer is no, that is “pretty much where the conversation ends.” Fenwick says some candidates may not necessarily be happy with their current jobs, but they also don’t want to lose the hybrid setup with their already existing employer.

Fenwick, whose firm recently published its Legal Salary Guide for 2023, notes that at the height of the “hiring frenzy” in 2022, salaries were rising at levels not seen before, on average, about 20 percent more than anticipated.

And while salary expectations remain high in 2023, Fenwick says there has been a “stabilization” or “plateauing” of compensation being offered by firms. Also, lengthy negotiations are becoming less common. “Inflated compensation packages are returning to a more sustainable level,” particularly for junior-level to intermediate-level legal roles, the report says.

Adds Fenwick: “It was a hypercompetitive market in 2022, with higher salaries offered, more signing bonuses, more retention bonuses,” says Fenwick. That’s cooled down a fair bit. We don’t see the same thing, and hiring is at a slower pace as employers are more cautious about who they bring on.”

Impact, based in Vancouver with a second office in Toronto, has done its salary report for Vancouver for several years. This year’s survey includes data for the Toronto area.

For first-year lawyers in the Greater Vancouver Area, typical salaries range from $80,000 to $95,000 at small firms to $100,000 to $120,000 at large firms (the same as last year in both cases).

At the other end of the experience scale, lawyers with five years behind them can expect salaries between $130,000 and $140,000 at small firms and between $165,000 to $180,000 at large firms. That compares with 2022 figures of $110,000 to $130,000 at small firms and $140,000 to $175,000 at large firms.

 In the Toronto area, first-year lawyers at small firms are looking at salaries between $85,000 and $100,000 and wages of $110,000 to $130,000 are large firms. With five years of experience, the range is $120,000 to $140,000 at small firms and $195,000 to $215,000 at larger firms. Fenwick says Impact has been keeping track of salaries in the GTA, but this is the first year of making them public.

Fenwick notes that while national firms are looking to “lockstep” compensation plans for lawyers to ensure greater transparency and prevent prolonged negotiations at the interview stage, mid-size firms are attempting to “catch up” with larger firms to attract a higher calibre of candidates with better compensation.

For other legal professional staff, the survey shows that in Toronto, the salary range for a paralegal is between $50,000 and $60,000 for those with less than two years of experience and between $90,000 and $130,000 for those with more than nine years of experience. The ranges are similar for law clerks, while legal administrative assistants with less than two years’ work experience can expect $40,000 to $55,000, and those at the top end can expect between $70,000 and $80,000.

Paralegals with less than two years behind them in Vancouver can expect between $50,000 and $65,000 and $90,000 to $130,000 with nine years or more. A legal administrative assistant with less than two years of experience can likely see salaries of $45,000 to $55,000 and $75,000 to $80,000 at the top end.

Fenwick says the slightly higher salaries in Vancouver for support staff compared with Toronto is likely due to the larger pool of suitable candidates in the GTA pulling down the wages.

Fenwick notes that flexibility remains a high priority for legal professionals looking for work-life balance. At the same time, more firms want their employees, especially support staff, to come to the office full-time. The survey shows that junior-level support staff have a greater expectation placed on them to be in-office compared to more experienced paralegals or law clerks.

Fenwick says that some firms are making some forms of compromise on this by allowing flexibility during the workday for appointments and family obligations. Or depending on the nature of the role and level of seniority, a hybrid model may be agreed upon if the appropriate technology is in place to accommodate remote working.

Nevertheless, Fenwick says, firms that require employees to return to the office five days a week will likely face “retention challenges” if there are other options. “Firms willing to stand out and provide increased flexibility will find it less challenging to recruit and retain the talent they desire,” the report says.

While recruitment efforts have cooled off, Fenwick says forward-thinking hiring managers are still eager to connect with intermediate-level to senior-level lawyers and support staff that are essential to the future growth of their firm.

“Though many firms are adopting a more cautious, strategic approach to recruitment, some hiring managers are willing to be patient and put in the extra effort and resources required to secure the right candidate for those skill sets that remain in high demand.”

Recent articles & video

First Nation's land entitlement claim statute-barred, but SCC finds treaty breach by Crown

Five firms dominating M&A activity in Canada in recent years

Ontario Superior Court upholds jurisdiction in class action suit against crypto platform Coinbase

BC Supreme Court dismisses shopping mall slip and fall case due to inexcusable delay

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal halts arbitration in pension plan dispute

Ontario Superior Court asserts jurisdiction in child custody dispute

Most Read Articles

ESG-related legal risk is on the rise, says KPMG's Conor Chell

Roundup of law firm hires, promotions, departures: April 8 2024 update

Why this documentarian profiled elder rights advocate Melissa Miller in Hot Docs film Stolen Time

US law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges to end mainland China operation