Bay Street Hiring Described as “Bloodbath”

Times are rough for everyone, but law students are still feeling the brunt of the economic contraction as there are less and less jobs. Osgoode and Ottawa students seem to be affected the worst, while Queen’s, Western and UofT have fared slightly better. A total of 351 students were hired by Bay Street firms this year, which can be compared to 379 hires in 2012, 403 in 2011 and 444 in 2010.

Theses figures are available through UofT’s law student paper, Ultra Vires, which describes the situation as a “bloodbath.” The data was compiled through information provided by firms, as well as an internal survey of UofT students. The survey had an 85% response rate, and the full survey answers are available here.

The paper also investigated the factors which helped law students get an interview and a job offer. Grades can help with an on campus interview, and 84%of students who were above the 80th percentile in their class were hired. What also helps getting an interview is having a parent who is a lawyer, so anyone who still suggests that legal hiring is a completely merit-based system probably needs to re-examine those assumptions.

Grades do not help, however, for in-firm interviews and job offers, where self-described extroverts typically had an advantage. Other factors which did not help according to the paper are doing a law journal while in 1st year, having a BCom or Masters degree, an LSAT score, and gender or ethnicity. Although UofT strives “to build a diverse and unique community of students,” the school hardly has the ethnic diversity of Osgoode or Ottawa. An estimated 66% of the students are not visible minorities, and the school body certainly does not resemble the population of Toronto, so the assumptions about ethnicity being a non-factor may actually be premature.

The continued contraction of positions in large law firms may lead to a reexamination for many students about the types of practices they want to get in to. Those interested in more public-facing practices such as criminal law, family, personal injury, wills and estates and immigration, may seriously consider the new Law Practice Program as a viable alternative. Whether these alternatives are being promoted within the law schools and career offices is unknown, but the survey does reveal that the current Bay Street recruitment process leaves many students disillusioned and resentful, even if they are successful in securing a position.

Making the process even more painful is the rising tuition across Ontario law schools. The survey found that 60% of UofT law students will graduate with over $50,000 in debt. Tuition at UofT law, which is the highest in Canada, is currently $28,791 a year plus fees. The situation is not pretty.

Many of my colleagues also comment how law students these days, and “kids” generally, complain far too much. Students may actually have valid reasons for doing so. In his doctoral thesis, recently published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Prof. Markus Moos finds sharp declines in inflation-adjusted incomes for millennials suggesting an entire generation will experience a lower standard of living. Moos finds empirical data demonstrating that the societal restructuring since 1981 has left younger people with relatively lower individual income and higher Gini coefficient inequality, and far less institutional redistribution in society than in the past. He describes these changes as “somebody with the same degree, the same job and the same demographic profile is earning less today than they were in the 1980s.”

The result is an increased importance in educational attainment to achieve earnings, as workers in “higher-order occupations” do earn more than in the past. Although law students have it rough, they do have it slightly better than all the other youth in their generation. Moos concludes,

Some social commentators have labelled today’s generation of young adults as having an exaggerated sense of entitlement, with various explanations for the trends. The Occupy Wall Street protests seem to suggest that on some level this sense of entitlement is actually a desire among young adults to receive the same pay as someone did for a similar job 20 years ago, or to see similar (or, dare we say, even lower) levels of social inequality than in the past. Obviously entitlement is not enough to address growing inequality concerns: will today’s young adults stand up to the injustices that social and environmental activists have for the last half-century worked hard to reverse? For our children, we must hope so. Whether or not it will be the Occupy Wall Street movement that spurs broad-based societal change to deal with inequalities remains to be seen.


  1. I’m assuming that the majority of lawyers on Bay Street are Queen’s, Western and U of T alumni who are hiring graduates from their respective alma mater. So where did the majority of Osgoode and Ottawa law graduates find employment? Has it always been the case that graduates from Osgoode and Ottawa struggle to find positions on Bay Street? Or, are they too hiring from the other schools?

    Or, I suppose another scenario could be that Queen’s, Western and U of T are better at utilizing their alumni in the recruitment of their graduates. Are the various law schools playing a role in finding placement for their graduates and/or should the schools be responsible for such placement?

  2. I went to U.B.C. and am looking for work in Toronto. I never expected my school to do all that much for me given how few people make the journey East.

  3. There are plenty of jobs for those students who are willing to look in places other than downtown Toronto (or Vancouver, etc). I won’t believe that there’s any sort of crisis or job shortage until rural firms are packed to the brim with new lawyers (whereas now there are older lawyers who can’t retire because they have nobody to take over their practice).

  4. I moved to Ottawa to article, so I am aware of the options. However, it’s not realistic for many people with familial commitments, or who have significant others with careers. Also, fewer young people are getting driver’s licences these days which can complicate moving to a smaller centre without transit .

  5. Great post on the legal jobs market, although I do have to take issue with what I see as a slightly racist undertone in your article. You state:

    “Although UofT strives “to build a diverse and unique community of students,” the school hardly has the ethnic diversity of Osgoode or Ottawa. An estimated 66% of the students are not visible minorities, and the school body certainly does not resemble the population of Toronto”

    Why should the University of Toronto be criticized on the basis that 66% are not visible minorities? The population of Canada as a whole is not that diverse. Recall that the majority of citizens are (by definition) non minorities.

    It is also worrying that you think that the population at UofT should resemble the population of Toronto itself. UofT does not exist solely to cater to Toronto residents. It is funded by the province, and it is open to national and international students. Requiring that its composition should reflect the city itself means that you are discounting those taxpayers in other parts of Ontario (e.g., Timmins, Peterborough) who subsidize UofT. Apparently they do not count in your calculus of what UofT’s ethnic composition should look like.

    This means that you are ignoring the existence of a broad section of Ontario’s population that happens to live outside major cities centers (and which happens to be largely white). It seems a little discriminatory and ethnocentrist to do so. You demand their tax dollars to run this school, while excluding them from inclusion in your quota of acceptable racial groups.

  6. Jim,
    Increasing the visible minority representation in law schools is a professed goal of the law society and educational institutions.

    There has been clear evidence of discrimination found in the legal sector, and minority leadership in the GTA lags significantly.

    If you’d like to label all of these parties as having “racist undertones,” that’s entirely up to you. But the conclusion that we need to increase visible minority representation in the bar and the judiciary is one the rest of us already made many years ago.

  7. “Why should the University of Toronto be criticized on the basis that 66% are not visible minorities? The population of Canada as a whole is not that diverse. Recall that the majority of citizens are (by definition) non minorities.”

    This is not true at all. Leaving aside the question of who is included under “visible” minorities, as an example the population of Toronto is just over 50% white. If in a few years that number drops, all that means is that there will still be a large proportion of white people, say 40-something percent, and also several smaller groupings. None will form a majority. E.g. 45 + 20 + 20 + 10 + 5.

  8. One of the points I understood Jim to be making is that the diversity of the U of T Law Faculty (or its other faculties) should not be measured on the population of Toronto alone. The University, and Faculty, draw on the whole province, not to say the country. (For law, probably the number of foreign students is low, for the general J.D. course.)

    According to the statistics here, the Faculty’s students are 1/3 non-white. That may not be as non-white as Toronto, but it is surely non-whiter than the province as a whole. It is also likely to be non-whiter than the current Ontario legal profession.

    How should successful diversity be measured, for one law faculty out of seven in the province, in the biggest and most diverse city in the province? Must the student body be analysed on the basis of a 45 + 20 + 20 + 10 + 5 basis – and again, compared to what population?

  9. John,

    The actual premise behind Jim’s comment is that increasing diversity of the bar and judiciary is itself “slightly racist.” The points he makes about comparison groups is only ancillary to this main point.

    The lack of visible minority representation in positions of leadership within the legal community, including the judiciary, can only be rectified by increasing the numbers of minority lawyers. Current snapshots of law school demographics completely ignores the larger picture of the existing demographics of the bar, as well as exclusionary bars preventing advancement of minorities into these positions.

    All of these points are also a tangent from the main point raised in the article, namely whether visible minority status operates as a barrier in the OCI hiring process. The fact that there are clear demographic discrepancies between UofT, Queen’s, and Western on one hand, and Osgoode and Ottawa on the other, and the fact that the former still perform better in Bay Street hiring as a whole than the latter, should prompt further inquiry. The paper’s conclusion that being a visible minority does not act as a barrier is likely premature and largely untested given the respective demographics of the school and the lack of comparison groups from other schools.

    This was the only point that I was making about their report. The inquiry into whether diversity should be encouraged, how much diversity is enough, and what populations we are comparing school populations to are not the focus of the inquiry here.

  10. Fair enough, Omar. It would be nice (I don’t say it’s possible) to have some other measure of success at the Bar, and in legal employment, than Bay Street, which is a pretty narrow measure (and according to M Kowalski and others, doomed…).

  11. My initial thought as to why Osgoode and Ottawa don’t perform as well as the other schools mentioned in the article is because of their respective class sizes.

    Osgoode and Ottawa have nearly double the class size and adjusting for class size does not make for an appropriate comparison when there are only a limited number of positions available.

    I have not seen the numbers but I suspect that more Osgoode students obtain associate positions on Bay street than graduates from Western and Queen’s, and their numbers are very comparable to U of T graduates. It is when it is looked at as a percentage of the study body that Osgoode falls behind.

    Although it may be inherently unfair to Osgoode and Ottawa students, employers haven no duty to ensure they hire a representative number of students from each law school.

    I also suspect that it has very little to do with the ethnic composition of the student bodies.

  12. John,
    I agree entirely, hence my reference above to the LPP program. The current situation is that the largest proportion of entry-level and articling positions are on Bay Street, and the focus on these jobs by students is therefore entirely understandable. Consider the comment in the school’s survey:

    CDO sessions focused heavily on the firm recruitment process, and some of the CDO staff were unable to properly answer questions about government and public interest positions. The CDO needs to do a better job of assisting all students, not only those who want to end up on Bay Street.

    Although students should be thinking of career alternatives, such academic explorations appear to have the potential of hurting them in the hiring process:

    Someone at a Bay St firm asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to do family or criminal— when I had indicated that I was taking neither of those classes and was interested in civil litigation.

    With low certainty of articling and jobs in these public-facing areas of the law, the risks and anxiety that students face is certainly understandable.

    I’m certain there are multiple reasons for discrepancies between schools. School cultures also play a significant role, and both UofT and Western are known for a more “corporate” culture. Visible minorities at these schools likely downplay their ethnic community connections in order to be successful in law school and practice.

    As stated above, I only believe that Ultra Vires’ conclusion that ethnicity does not play a role in OCIs is probably premature. There appear to be some concerns from employers about the potential flight of law students from Canada, and I suspect these fears would be heightened for law students born abroad:

    Repeatedly kept asking me about my life choices and future plans for staying in the country

    Students with a strong interest in access to justice would also likely to be excluded, which would have a significant effect on law schools where this theme is prominently featured:

    The strangest thing I encountered was questions regarding my first year experiences. Two firms I had in-firm interviews with told me that they almost passed on my application because I had a number of human rights focussed activities on my resume. They assumed this meant that I wasn’t truly interested in the firm’s practice area. The CDO had told me that firms would be impressed by my 1L experiences, when in reality they almost hurt me. I think part of the problem is that the school forces students to pick extra-curricular activities within the first two weeks of school, before students have really developed an interest in an area of law

  13. Omar,

    “Repeatedly kept asking me about my life choices and future plans for staying in the country” could this be Canada’s experience or Canadian psyche? After all, it’s been Canada’s experience to have talent drain. Whether it be singers, actors/actresses, comediennes, athletes, journalists, writers, bankers, lawyers and the list goes on – have a tendency to go outside of Canada to achieve their personal measure of success. Not too long ago when a former publisher for one of the multinational publishing houses arrived in Canada his arrival was heralded as a stepping stone to bigger things in NYC. For many, success is achieved in London and New York (as the song goes if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere). So what I’m attempting to say is not that there isn’t discrimination based on ethnicity but in this instance is it really?

  14. Verna,

    Certainly, this comment about permanency in Canada could be interpreted in multiple ways, especially given the historic trend of UofT law students going to New York City for corporate work.

    It’s also important to disentangle the concepts of visible minorities and attachments outside of Canada. Visible minorities in Canada are just as Canadian as anyone else, and may or may not have more cultural or ethnic ties outside of the country. In a multicultural city like Toronto we frequently see non-visible minorities having stronger international ties than others who may be born here. When I introduced the quote you repeat here I did so without any specific references to ethnic minorities.

    The point I was making above was simply that the paper’s conclusion about ethnic background is far too premature.

  15. Omar:

    I too believe there are a variety of factors that contribute to discrepancies between law schools. However, my main point was that Osgoode and Ottawa do not in fact have significantly fewer hires than the other law schools, it is only when this claim is looked at as a percentage of student bodies.

    I further note that questions of immigration and residency in Canada do not necessarily equate to evidence in support of ethnicity being a factor in firm hiring. My personal experience has shown that minorities and non-minorities alike have been judged on their ability to speak well in interviews and demonstrate the flexibility to adapt or fit in with the firm culture of the interviewer.

    If a law student with an ethnic minority background is unable to impress an interviewer because of a failure to meet the above criteria, that failure should not be attributed to ethnicity unless there is overwhelming evidence showing that to be the case.

  16. In an editorial today in Slate, Tim Donovan and William Guida also provide another explanation for the rising angst and psychiatric problems among the millennial generation – our unhealthy stressful culture,

    …modern childhood is not conducive to a healthy psyche… Telling these kids to grow out of it simply won’t help, nor is “behaving like an adult” (whatever the hell that means) going to fix an entire generation’s very real, very practical problems.

    Donovan and Guida look to Japan to see what might come next:

    A decade before America’s own catastrophic Great Recession, the economies of South Korea, Thailand and Japan experienced collapse (and subsequent long-term recession), commonly known as the “East Asia Crisis.” Its causes should sound eerily familiar to any American: Massive market deregulation led to a huge infusion of capital in assets like real estate. New monetary policy led to easy access to credit, only fueling the asset bubble. East Asian economies were soon highly leveraged, and when interest rates spiked, the bubble burst. Prices collapsed, and a recession was born. Investors quickly lost confidence, and local governments rushed to impose a set of strict monetary policies (“austerity”) to placate investors, only deepening the recession.This period, known in Japan as the “Lost Decade” (Ushinawareta Jūnen), was hardest on the young people attempting to start careers and “adult” lives. It was so hard on them that eventually they became known as the “freeters.” In a phenomenal article for the Atlantic, Ethan Devine paints a stunning picture of modern-day Japan from the perspective of these freeters, and those who’ve grown up in the intervening years.