Lawyer salary

Is it still worth it to be a canadian lawyer

More money, more problems: Costs rise as lawyers’ salaries rise.

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It is often assumed that if you are a lawyer, you are ready. You will be rich; if not now, then definitely one day.

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Of course, this assumption doesn’t take into account other things, such as a lawyer’s hours or even the job opportunities available to people trying to start their careers. The pandemic has also affected the outlook for lawyers, bringing about some beneficial and some harmful changes.

More fees, but more money

Inflation may be on the minds of most Canadians, but legal education has been steadily increasing for several years. What once cost a few thousand dollars a year has skyrocketed, says ZSA Recruitment partner Orit Sinai.

“Twelve years ago it was $10,000 a year, but now the cost of studying law has increased dramatically across the board,” Sinai said. “Things have obviously changed.”

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Sinai noted that for Osgoode Hall, one of the nation’s top law schools, the program now costs about $25,000 a year. This increases to around $37,000 for international students. The higher prices have prompted some Canadians to pursue their law studies elsewhere, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It’s the United States that has posed a problem for Canadian law firms over the past year and a half, Sinai said.

“There was a talent war, a lot of our talent was stolen by corporate America,” Sinai said. “About 25% of our top corporate lawyers have moved to the United States, primarily to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They were offering lawyers about US$200,000 a year. A freshman lawyer would make around $130,000 on Bay Street.

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The positive note is that to combat this, wages have increased in Canada. The pay increases are most notable for jobs on Bay Street, where there’s huge demand for top candidates, Sinai says.

“An average lawyer who is about three or four years away can expect to make $150,000 in base salary from in-house,” Sinai says. “Then about $200,000 in a Bay Street business.”

That’s compared to the pre-pandemic base of $110,000 to $130,000, Sinai said.

Beyond Bay Street

But if you go beyond Bay Street businesses, there’s been a ripple effect across Canada. In some cases, the best candidates now have the option of working anywhere in the country, thanks to the rise of remote work. And that also meant re-budgeting to get the best people, Sinai said.

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Take Quebec, for example, where hiring in the United States is not as common. In 2019, 35% of lawyers in private practice in the province earned more than $110,000. Those numbers increase even more if you focus on Montreal, said Dominique Tardif, president of ZSA Recruitment in Quebec.

And don’t forget the annual bonuses.

“In some places you will have a very generous bonus structure,” Tardif said. “If you put New York times against Montreal times, you’ll probably get them back in part through a bounty.”

The New York hours she is referring to are the 2,000 hours required each year in the United States, or more. In Canada, those hours drop to 1,750. While Canadian lawyers receive between $50,000 and $60,000 in some cases, American lawyers are looking at premiums closer to US$100,000.

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Is it a question of money?

If it’s all about the money, being a lawyer is a good start, but Sinai suggests moving from there to business. This is where the real money comes in, especially with emerging startups looking for an in-house attorney.

“Law school is great and becoming a lawyer is great, but a lot of lawyers get an MBA and go into businesses,” Sinai said. “And that’s a lot of what people should consider, because it’s interesting and very lucrative.”

Tardif agrees, stating that if you compare yourself to a CEO with a private yacht, then lawyers don’t make a lot of money. Meanwhile, how much you earn may also depend on the practice area you are in.

“If you’re working for refugees and helping them, well, you’ll probably get a lower hourly rate than if you’re working in corporate law merging companies,” Tardif says.

That being said, Tardif also insists that no matter what practice you stick with, if you work hard and are the best at it, the money will follow. But while jobs may be available now, that may not always be the case, she warns.

“I saw people practicing law because of the money, but I ended up hating it and then leaving,” Tardif said. “It’s not a 37.5 hour work week, it can go up to 50 hours a week. So make sure it’s something you want to do.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.

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