The Hireback Rate on Bay Street is Freakishly High

At the largest firms in Toronto, 98 percent of articling students have been hired back

This year, the hireback rate on Bay Street reached an all-time peak: 16 of the largest law offices in Toronto hired back 98 percent of their articling students. Practically every articling student on Bay Street — who didn’t opt out of the hireback process — will return as an associate in the fall.

This data comes from PrecedentJD’s exclusive 2019 Hireback Watch. For the past 11 years, this magazine has collected hireback numbers from firms across Toronto. We also publish a breakdown of the 16 largest firms, where we rank them based on their most-recent hireback rate.

This year’s ultra-high hireback rate is a deviation from the past. When we first collected this data, a decade ago, a couple firms consistently scored above 90 percent, but the rest hired back between 50 and 85 percent of their students.

Over the past four years, that average percentage has steadily crept up: 82 percent in 2016, 89 percent in 2017 and 91 percent in 2018. But to reach 98 percent is stunning.

What’s behind this year’s spike? One answer is that firms have adopted a new hiring philosophy. “We’re trying to be careful in who we hire into our student program, with a view to hiring everyone back,” says Mark Ledwell, the managing partner at the Toronto office of Gowling WLG. This year, his firm posted its first 100-percent hireback rate since the beginning of the Hireback Watch.

The legal economy has also been strong over the past half-decade. “So far, there’s no sign of letting up,” says Ledwell. “We’re finding that our students have been really busy and have been more integrated in the practice than before.”

There’s another noteworthy trend in the numbers: most firms have, over time, reduced the size of their articling-student cohorts. In 2009, the largest firms in Toronto took on 325 students; this year, that number has fallen to 265. As a result, firms don’t have to hire back as many students to have a high overall percentage.

“It’s not surprising that the hireback ratio is higher, because you’re starting with a smaller pool,” says Craig Lockwood, a partner and the chair of the student committee at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. “Gone are the days when, 10 or 15 years ago, certain firms would hire twice as many students as they needed and let the cream rise to the top.” At Osler, the plan has always been to match the size of its student class with its demand for associates. This explains why the firm typically posts a perfect — or near-perfect — hireback rate.

This year also saw a small uptick in the total number of first-year associates hired back. One year ago, the largest firms in Toronto brought on 205 first years; this year, that number is up to 238. “I’m not surprised to see those numbers,” says Lesa Ong, a legal recruiter at NegataConnex. “The market is buoyant right now, so firms have been really busy. But they’ve also been very lean on the mid-to-senior associate level.”

According to Ong, a growing number of associates have started to leave their firms before they reach a mid-career point. That means firms may be hiring more first-year associates in anticipation of attrition down the line.

Lockwood at Osler views the latest hiring season as a positive sign for the future. “It’s actually a great time to be entering the profession, because it’s very, very busy and firms are hiring wisely,” he says. “That reflects well on the students and means they’ll have a better experience because of it.”


Corporate Counsel


To provide legal advice to the businesses of ABC Inc. (the “Company”) to ensure protection of the Company’s assets, interests and rights. The Legal Department’s role is to provide management, senior executives and the board of directors with legal advice and opinions necessary to make informed business decisions; to ensure that all legal requirements are being met by the Company; and to facilitate the lawful accomplishment of the Company’s business goals and objectives.

The Corporate Counsel must be customer service driven and have a good working relationship with internal clients and the personality and skills necessary to work effectively with outside counsel. The Corporate Counsel functions in a dynamic and changing environment that will require flexibility and active management of priorities. A close liaison must be maintained with the General Counsel keeping him/her informed of significant developments and seeking his/her advice and assistance when appropriate.


  • Law Degree from a Canadian law school or equivalent
  • Member of Ontario Bar
  • 3 to 6 years relevant experience gained in a leading law firm or corporate legal department


  • Member of the Quebec Bar
  • Proficiency in French [Spanish etc.]
  • Advance degree in [complimentary subject matter – MBA, Finance etc.]
  • Other skills and competencies gained through non-legal industry experience


It is expected that the Corporate Counsel will be skilled in the drafting of legal documents and demonstrate the ability to identify the legal issues, research and analyze complicated situations and develop practical solutions in an efficient manner. Opinions, decisions and actions will have an effect on all functions within the Company.

35% – Securities/M&A duties include:

  • Maintain corporate books and records for the Company and all Canadian subsidiaries.
  • Prepare and review public filings, press releases and other public disclosure, including but not limited to disclosure obligations to the OSC, TSX and SEC.
  • Ensure compliance with all applicable corporate and securities laws and regulations.
  • Advise on legal matters associated with the acquisition and disposition of businesses and Company assets.
  • Advise and counsel the board of directors on issues relating to corporate governance and fiduciary duty

35% – Commercial law duties include:

  • Draft, negotiate, review and interpret contracts and other legal documents (e.g. purchase, sale, procurement, consulting services and construction contracts, warranties, guarantees and licenses).
  • Counsel and assist sales force with negotiating and drafting contracts.
  • Advise on legal matters relating to the purchase and sale of products, including business strategies, advertising, pricing arrangements, marketing and promotional practices and product liability.
  • Advise on legal matters relating to commercial and industrial leases and related environmental and regulatory issues.
  • Advise and provide training to colleagues on matters relating to consumer protection law and customer privacy issues.

20% – Intellectual Property duties include:

  • Manage the intellectual property portfolio (patents, trade secrets, trademarks and copyrights) of the Company.
  • Negotiate intellectual property agreements, such as License Agreements, Co-Development Agreements, Consulting Services Agreements, Procurement Agreements and Non-disclosure and Confidentiality Agreements.
  • Educate clients regarding compliance with intellectual property based laws.

10 % – Other duties include:

  • Counsel clients on legal implications of their Company’s plans, policies and actions and giving legal opinions on specific matters.
  • Advise on human resource and employment law matters, including discipline, termination and severance issues.
  • Advise on legal claims by and against the Company.
  • Identify and manage relationships with outside counsel to facilitate completion of above objectives.



  • Consult with, advises and report to General Counsel
  • Consult with and advise Patent Counsel on matters relating to patent, trade secrets and intellectual property law
  • Instruct and manage a corporate/securities clerk


  • Maintain good working relationship with senior management and with managers in the Sales, Marketing/Advertising, Finance/Accounting, Human Resource and Research and Development business groups
  • Maintain good working relationship with the Corporate Secretary and the board of directors


  • Instruct and work with outside counsel.
  • Negotiate with counterparts in other companies, in private practice, and opposing counsel.
  • Liaise with and obtain guidance from government officials on legal matters affecting the Company.


Manage staff of two securities clerks and coordinate budget and administrative functions with the General Counsel

The In-house Lawyer’s Guide to Job Descriptions

You are a General Counsel or a senior legal counsel and after too many months of filling multiple roles in your legal department and almost as many months making the business case for an increase in headcount, you’ve finally received approval to hire a new lawyer for your team. What now? Before, you post job ads in the Ontario Reports and Lexpert Magazine or call your legal recruiter; the first step is to create an accurate and effective job description for the position.

A written job description is a multi-purpose document that provides a descriptive summary of the accountabilities and deliverables of a position and has utility across a wide range of human resource management functions. In addition to creating a job description whenever a new job is created, it is also good management practice to review and update existing job descriptions whenever a job’s responsibilities change or when a job’s reporting relationship changes in order to verify that the position’s responsibilities and reporting relationships are accurate.

This short article presents the key functions and benefits of a job description and provides an annotated checklist of its essential elements. At the end of this article, I’ve provided a link to a downloadable ‘Form of Job Description’ for a corporate counsel position that you are welcome to use as a template for creating your own job descriptions.

A. Key Functions and Benefits of a Job Description

1. Recruitment Tool

A job description provides the General Counsel or direct supervisor with job information for posting and advertising a job for recruitment purposes. A job description should, not only provide the basis for determining selection criteria and competencies, it should do so in a way that identifies the most marketable qualities of the position. It will also help interviewers formulate appropriate interview questions. The job description is also a marketing tool which will help you attract, assess and hire the right person for the job.

2. Compensation/Budget Management

A job description assists in determining the appropriate classification and compensation for a particular job. They are also necessary for developing and maintaining equitable and competitive compensation programs and assist the General Counsel with determining the most effective and efficient strategy for allocating the budget between external legal counsel and inhouse personnel.

3. New Employee Orientation

A job description is an essential tool for the General Counsel/supervisor to explain and clarify key reporting relationships, accountabilities to key business units and expected deliverables of a job to a new legal counsel. The initial orientation process is especially important when transitioning a lawyer that was previously in private practice into a new in house legal counsel role with entirely different job expectations.

4. Employee Performance Management and Development

It can be exceedingly difficult to develop performance standards without a detailed description of a job and its essential functions. A job description provides a basis of understanding between the General Counsel/supervisor and the employee about the responsibilities, objectives and priorities of a position. It serves as a means of communication for improving work planning and feedback. In addition, a job description provides the standards for tracking and managing performance, that in turn form the basis of performance appraisals and reviews. Performance management will support management decisions relating to promotions, salary increases, performance bonuses or discipline, counselling and termination. Formal, up-to-date job descriptions reduce misunderstandings regarding job duties, responsibilities and performance standards.

5. CLE and training

Continuing legal education and non-legal training requirements for a job must be actively assessed to ensure that the employee is equipped to meet the job requirements. A change in responsibilities may result in the need for skills upgrading and revisions to the job description.

6. HR/Organizational Planning

General Counsel/supervisors and HR mangers may use job descriptions for organizational planning, wage and salary surveys and reviews, human resource planning and development and occupational studies for statistical purposes.

B. The Essential Elements of a job description? An Annotated Checklist

A job description should articulate the results of the work assigned to a position; it should not describe how the work is done or the process and procedure to be followed. If such details are included, the job description will require constant monitoring and revision when ever these details change.

  1. Position Title and Location – identify the job title and the physical office location
  2. Supervisor’s Position Title – identify the direct supervisor for the position by title only
  3. Purpose of the Position – describe the basics function and purpose of the position and describe the function legal department in the context of the enterprise as a whole. It is not necessary to describe what the position does, but focus on establishing a context for the position and the legal department.
  4. Minimum Qualifications – list the essential qualifications such as a law degree, Ontario or other bar qualification, minimum numbers of years of legal experience and any other qualifications that are necessary to satisfy the job requirements.
  5. Non-essential qualifications/skills – list any qualifications or skills that would be valuable to an employee in the position (such as : proficiency in other languages, qualification in another Canadian or perhaps a US state bar, advance degrees in subject matter areas relevant to the business of the company such as an engineering, science or finance or technical non-legal work experience).
  6. Specific responsibilities and duties – identify the key responsibilities and duties that the position is accountable for. It may be useful to first break down the position into the main types of legal subject matter that the job will be responsible and then prioritize these responsibilities and duties based on the percentage of the total practice each subject matter area will require.
  7. Key relationships/organizational chart – identify and describe the nature of the key departmental, internal and external relationships that the employee in the position will be expected to develop and maintain. The internal relationships with key business people in the main business groups that the legal counsel will be expected to advise and counsel should be clearly identified.
  8. Financial responsibility and authority – outline financial responsibilities for planning, managing or monitoring external legal budgets as well as departmental personnel management responsibilities.
  9. Compensation/Benefits – outline the compensation details for the position, including both monetary compensation such as base salary, performance/retention bonus and pension/RRPS contribution plans and non-monetary compensation such as paid vacation, health and medical benefits, etc.
  10. Date prepared/Date approved – identify who and when each job description was prepared and when and by whom each job description was approved.

In addition to the essential elements enumerated above, it is important to remember that a job description is also a marketing document. In-house lawyers often become so familiar with their own organizations that they focus entirely on the specific responsibilities and duties and often fail to include the ‘sizzle’ when drafting a job description. Don’t miss out on a great marketing opportunity, a well crafted job description that is prepared with care and attention will increase the likelihood that you recruit the right candidate into your team and it will also increase your organization’s profile and strengthen its brand within the legal community.