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How much do family lawyers make in Toronto?


kferns97
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kferns97
  • Law Student

Especially for junior to mid level associates in downtown firms. Obviously money is not the primary reason for my interest in family law, but going to graduate with tons in debt

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realpseudonym
  • Lawyer

Paging @Aureliuse and @artsydork (if he's still around!). 

Without really knowing, my impression is that family law pay varies. If you're doing a lot of LAO work, I imagine it's going to be in the same range as smaller firms that do more LAO in other practice areas. So maybe mid-five figures for junior lawyers on average, with the structure varying between eat-what-you-kill firms, salaries, and splits. Firms more geared to wealthy, private clients with assets probably pay better. 

Just as a note, I know you're asking about pay at firms, but it's also not uncommon to go out on your own in family. 

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kferns97
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Do you know which firms are considered the "best" or with higher net worth clients? The only firm I know is Epstein Cole but I feel like most other firms are pretty evenly matched if that makes

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Deadpool
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14 minutes ago, kferns97 said:

Do you know which firms are considered the "best" or with higher net worth clients? The only firm I know is Epstein Cole but I feel like most other firms are pretty evenly matched if that makes

https://www.lexpert.ca/rankings?listing_type=firm&product=DIR&practice_area=L4&province=&search_text= 

This is a pretty accurate list. 

https://chambers.com/legal-rankings/family-matrimonial-high-net-worth-canada-21:2735:50:1 

Family/Matrimonial: High Net Worth in Canada Rankings - Band 1 - Blaney McMurtry, Epstein Cole, McCarthy Hansen & Company

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Aureliuse
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@realpseudonym

Ok ok, I am here, I am here! I had worked at two leading family law firms in downtown Toronto.

On 11/15/2021 at 3:33 PM, kferns97 said:

Especially for junior to mid level associates in downtown firms. Obviously money is not the primary reason for my interest in family law, but going to graduate with tons in debt

I hate to break this to you, but if you are looking to make good money, family law might not be the practice area for you. To earn a decent income, you either start your own sole practice once you become competent in this area or make it to partner at a high-end firm.

Almost all downtown Toronto family law firms (especially boutiques - practicing only family law) handle high net worth files. Many firms get referrals from high-end business/civil litigation firms on Bay St. or from many companies' in house counsel.

However, just because your files are high net worth, as a junior associate, that does not mean your salary is going to reflect the billable the firm can send to clients. If I recall correctly, junior and mid-level associates make around $70k to $130k at those firms (0 year call to 8-year-call). You would get more leverage on salary as you do more trials, niche and complex files (for example, international child abductions, appeals, high conflict, and pension files), and bring in more clients on your own. However, starting out, you will be most likely assisting a partner or a senior family law associate. You almost rarely get to carry files on your own.

Of course, how much you get paid also depends on what unique experience/skill/training you bring to the firm.

The work hours at some downtown family law firms can be soul crushing and taxing on your health. At both firms I was at, I worked 12-14 hour days, right through weekends, and even Christmas holidays. My billables could easily exceed 200+ hours each month. A slow month was around 160-170 billable hours. An intense month could hit 220-230 hours. Your life becomes your work.

As a fresh call, you are somewhat of a dime a dozen in Toronto and the top tier family law firms can be picky about who they hire. However, the lawyer burnout rate in this practice area is also quite high; so I find that there is always demand for experienced, passionate, and competent family law lawyers with trial experience (5+ years of call). The first 3-5 years are tough. Family law is a difficult practice area to learn and the law is constantly changing. There are a lot of practice nuances too.

On the topic of "best" firms, this is hard to say. Every family law firm gets difficult files and work with difficult clients. Every firm has its unique dynamic, policy, and work flow. Each downtown Toronto family law firm/department has its exceptional team of lawyers who specialize in all aspects of family law.

I sent you a PM with a list of leading family law firms (imo) in Toronto.

 

Edited by Aureliuse
typo
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  • 6 months later...
Garfield
  • Law Student
Posted (edited)
On 11/17/2021 at 8:25 PM, Aureliuse said:

 

To earn a decent income, you either start your own sole practice once you become competent in this area or make it to partner at a high-end firm.

Why does going solo allow you to earn better income? Also at what year(s) of call have you observed a lot of family lawyers going solo? I know that folks can and have gone solo at any year of call, but I was curious as to what year(s) of call a lot of lawyers do.

On a different, but possibly related point, why do a lot of the law firms serving high net worth clientele have more lawyers? (For instance, I saw that MHC and Grant Crawford merged.) If I were to take a stab, I would think that it is because of the nature of the work combined with the value of the file (e.g. clients have a lot of assets in some labyrinthine corporate structure and it might make sense to have more hands on deck because the work and questions that come from it are complex and might require research or some grunt work that juniors can do etc.). 

Edited by Garfield
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realpseudonym
  • Lawyer
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Garfield said:

Why does going solo allow you to earn better income? 

If you're an employee, you're usually paying a sizeable portion of your billings to a firm's expenses and partner profit. That's fine if you're not able to attract the work on your own, or you're practicing a kind of law where you need the resources of a larger firm to do things properly. But if you're working at a criminal, family, etc firm, you'll often reach a point as an associate where you could just go out on your own and get the same clients without giving up a hefty percentage of all the work you're billing out.  

Edited by realpseudonym
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Aureliuse
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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, Garfield said:

Why does going solo allow you to earn better income? Also at what year(s) of call have you observed a lot of family lawyers going solo? I know that folks can and have gone solo at any year of call, but I was curious as to what year(s) of call a lot of lawyers do.

On a different, but possibly related point, why do a lot of the law firms serving high net worth clientele have more lawyers? (For instance, I saw that MHC and Grant Crawford merged.) If I were to take a stab, I would think that it is because of the nature of the work combined with the value of the file (e.g. clients have a lot of assets in some labyrinthine corporate structure and it might make sense to have more hands on deck because the work and questions that come from it are complex and might require research or some grunt work that juniors can do etc.). 

As @realpseudonymidentified, you get to be your own boss. I used to bill each month 5 to 6 times (And collect 4 times) what my boss paid me (and I was paid well).

The additional advantage is "Tax Planning." As a owner, you can write a lot of your personal expenses off or expense it through the business via a corporate structure - esp. meals, entertainment, travel, employee wages, promotions etc. You can even pay your family member (i.e. an adult child) a salary for administrative work and claim that as a business expense - also income splitting. As family law lawyers, we learn to attribute income back to support payors who run their own businesses to pin down how much income is actually available for support purposes.

Top law firms need many staff because the files they handle are massive. There are many parts and moving pieces. Often a team of lawyers from the partners to the fresh-out-of-law-school associates are needed to work on a file - even doing proofreading, note-ups, citations, and due diligence can require 2-3 staff. Trials, questioning, summary judgment motions, long motions require a lot of work. They also work with many veteran lawyers in other areas of law - civil litigation, corporate, trust/estates, tax etc.

Also, many big firms have solid and established reputations which often mean non-stop referrals and work flow. Having a sizable staff on hand means it can handle any spike in work flow. Even if a partner takes a vacation, there are juniors and mid-level associates to babysit files.

 

Edited by Aureliuse
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  • 1 month later...
Garfield
  • Law Student

Is it common for sole practitioners to "earn a decent income" while having a clientele base composed mostly of middle/working class clients and accepting legal aid certificates? For reference, my definition of a "decent income" is $150k+. I am also referring to sole practice in large cities, like Toronto and the GTA, if that matters.

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realpseudonym
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Garfield said:

Is it common for sole practitioners to "earn a decent income" while having a clientele base composed mostly of middle/working class clients and accepting legal aid certificates? For reference, my definition of a "decent income" is $150k+. I am also referring to sole practice in large cities, like Toronto and the GTA, if that matters.

Not particularly common, no. Not amongst the soles I know. 

edit: to clarify, it is common to make what I would consider a decent living. It is much less common to earn what @Garfield considers a decent living in the kind of practice described. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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  • 1 month later...
toby1994
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On 7/3/2022 at 10:35 PM, realpseudonym said:

edit: to clarify, it is common to make what I would consider a decent living. It is much less common to earn what @Garfield considers a decent living in the kind of practice described. 

What kind of living can a lawyer with this kind of practice expect to make? 

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