Hot shot lawyers leave for greener pastures

Scores of Canadian lawyers have fled for the bright lights of New York in recent years, clearly inspired by the undying popularity of Suits.

Driving the news: The legal profession in Canada is recovering from a pandemic-era case of brain drain in which 100 to 150 mostly junior-level lawyers left Canada, per The Globe and MailThese legal eagles mainly flew the coop from Toronto to New York City.

  • The exodus created talent scarcity, which remains high in Canada’s legal sector, and led to top-tier Canadian law firms poaching from smaller ones to fill their vacancies.

Why it’s happening: Late 2020 to early 2022 was a time of rampant Wall Street dealin’. NYC law firms handling deals needed more work power to keep up, so they turned north and enticed Canada’s best young lawyers with paydays that domestic firms simply couldn’t match. 

  • One lawyer who went over was offered a salary of US$250,000, roughly double what he would have made on Bay Street as a lawyer just three years out of school.

Why it matters: Though brain drain was exacerbated during the pandemic years, Canada has long struggled with it. Historically, it was most acutely seen in medicine, but is now happening across other STEM fields as absurdly high U.S. salaries lure talent down south. 

  • Young folks who studied at Canadian universities and used Canadian resources are leaving for greener pastures just as they start contributing back to the economy.

Bottom line: As deal activity slows and layoffs hit the U.S. legal sector, the legal brain drain appears to be in decline — part of a cyclical trend that’s been identified by researchers during boom and bust times. Some runaway lawyers are now returning back home.—QH