The average starting salaries for associates at Canadian law firms are expected to increase by almost five per cent this year, with the largest gains predicted for lawyers in IP, oil and gas, and real estate law.
A new survey by Robert Half Legal shows lawyers with one to three years of experience at a large firm (75+ lawyers) will have an average annual salary from $73,500 to $99,500, an eight-per-cent increase over last year. First-year associates will see starting salaries rise almost five per cent to the range of $67,000 to $76,750.
This seems to be following a recent trend in city centres in the United States, where firms across the board are bumping up salaries by $10,000 to $20,000 for first year associates. A recent article in The Legal Intelligencer showed one firm paying US$135,000 for first-year associates in Philadel-phia and US$145,000 in its New York office to attract and retain talent, and keep pace with the other firms that are increasing starting salaries.
While law firms in Canada seem to be much more tight-lipped about what they are paying lawyers, the recent data from Robert Half shows that firms are thinking about increases, even if they aren't talking about them.
A strong economy and attraction and retention of associates are the driving forces behind these increases, Rob Hosking, a vice-president with Robert Half Legal, tells Law Times.
"I think as the business climate continues to escalate, and that's what we're seeing right now, the economy is pretty good, both in Canada and in the U.S. A lot of the firms that may have held off or been more status quo for the last little while in terms of hiring are now starting to recognize that the work's piling up," he says.
"I also think what they're seeing is that there's a lot more movement than there's ever been so all of a sudden a lawyer with one firm will make a move after three or four years where 10 to 15 years ago, that didn't happen as much.
"They were in a firm and they were there either for life, on that partner track, or they did whatever and now it's 'Hey, I may jump three times before I find the firm that I want.' And each jump indicates a bit of an increase because there needs to be some additional incentive there to make a move so we're starting to see a bit of that."
According to recent data from Canadian Lawyer magazine's associates survey, first-year associates are raking in $90,000 a year at most large and mid-sized firms in Toronto, a figure that really hasn't changed much in the last few years.
An informal survey of large Bay Street firms revealed that 2006 salaries have either not been finalized yet or firms have no plans to break the $90,000 mark this year. Many firms wouldn't discuss salaries at all.
First-year associates in Vancouver are making be-tween $70,000 and $85,000 and those in Calgary are pulling in about the same amount.
Hosking says the six-per-cent increase is a Canadian average, but can be attributed to the growing oil-and-gas segment in Calgary.
"Calgary tends to be one of the ones because it tends to be really aggressive right now with oil and gas and so many of the large firms are hiring up out there," he says. "They're really grabbing at people because there isn't the inventory in Calgary already so they're really looking to entice people from outside of Calgary in many cases. We see Calgary as a really hot market."
Another hot spot is lawyers with a specialization in IP, real estate, or ethics and corporate governance, says Hosking.
"[IP's] a big one. Actually that's the area that we saw the biggest increase. By the end of 2010 . . . lawyers predicted the fastest-growing practice area will be IP, actually," he says.
"If you want to get specific on that, real estate continues to be an area of growth and now ethics and corporate governance as well. And securities, although that didn't come out as strong, we're still seeing a real need for securities lawyers. Again, out West it continues to be a strength there," he says.
"All of a sudden now there are practice areas that people didn't necessarily focus on as much before, so there's a premium paid for that experience."