Education

The Yankees come calling

U.S. firms are chasing the cream of the crop at three Canadian law schools

D’Arcy Jenish May 10 1999
Education

The Yankees come calling

U.S. firms are chasing the cream of the crop at three Canadian law schools

D’Arcy Jenish May 10 1999

The Yankees come calling

U.S. firms are chasing the cream of the crop at three Canadian law schools

Education

Cover

LAW

Christine Jabal can say this about her summer job: she will spend one month in Hong Kong and the balance in New York City, primarily assisting on international deals. But when it comes to salary, the 24-year-old Montrealer has yet to learn how much she will be paid by the prestigious New York law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. Jabal, who just completed her second year of law at McGill University, knows only that New York firms typically pay between $2,600 and $3,000 a week. For Jabal, the priority was gaining international experience and, ultimately, the offer of a permanent position. “New York,” she says, “is where most of the major corporate transactions go down.”

Jabal is just one of a growing number of top Canadian law students lured south by firms in New York and Boston. To date, the Americans have focused on McGill, the University of Toronto and York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. They usually hire second-year students for summer jobs, and subsequently offer permanent positions at starting salaries of $ 140,000 to $ 150,000. By comparison, graduates joining top Toronto firms earn $70,000 to $75,000, and in Montreal they can expect $40,000 to $50,000. Some top Canadian firms have responded by recruiting earlier in the school year, by guaranteeing summer students full-time positions after graduation, and by paying a portion of their third-year tuition. “There’s no way we can compete in remuneration,” says Lyse Charette, director of recruitment at Stikeman, Elliott in Montreal. “The Americans have really shaken things up.”

At most other Canadian law schools, the competition for top students is brisk, but largely local. Catherine Shaw, career placement officer at the University of British Columbia law school, says 75 per cent of its graduates find jobs within the province. At the University of Calgary, a majority of the graduates wind up at firms within the city. But some administrators anticipate that the U.S. invasion may prompt large Ontario firms to begin recruiting more aggressively in other parts of the country.

American recruitment at Canadian law schools began as a trickle, but has quickly turned into a deluge. In 1996, three firms held sessions at the University of Toronto, largely conducting preliminary interviews with second-year students for the following summer. Last fall, 14 firms paid a visit. The interest has been even stronger at McGill, with its joint degree program in both common and civil law, and bilingual stu-

dents. This fall, the university is expecting as many as 25 firms, up from about five in 1994. Of McGill’s 130 graduates, up to 20 per cent leave for the United States, or head elsewhere, primarily to Europe. This year, nearly six per cent of 170 University of Toronto graduates have accepted positions with U.S. firms; 15 second-year Osgoode students have taken summer positions in New York. The real cause for concern is the calibre of those who are leaving. Says Stephen Toope, dean of law at McGill: “They’re looking for top prospects.”

In a bid to compete, several major Ontario firms last June convinced the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates recruiting, to allow them to start interviewing for summer positions in the fall. This meant they were able to coincide with the U.S. invasion—rather than waiting until the end of January, as they had traditionally. As well, 20 leading Toronto firms have boosted salaries for both summer and articling students, and some have begun contributing up to $4,000 to cover third-year tuition. Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington now guarantees articling positions for their summer students, and permanent positions for those who article.

Meanwhile, Stikeman, Elliott in Montreal pays about $3,000 towards the cost of a mandatory one-year, postgraduate study program offered by the Quebec bar, and has also begun guaranteeing jobs for its articling students. Many other firms have added a strong personal touch. Sunny Handa, a lawyer with Martineau Walker in Montreal, says his firm entertained candidates for summer positions with dinners at “very, very expensive restaurants,” and assigned senior lawyers to sell them on the advantages of practising in Montreal. “The students,” says Handa, “are almost in the driver’s seat.”

D’Arcy Jenish

with

Brenda Branswell

in Montreal