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FAQ on "Bay St Firms"


QueensGrad

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QueensGrad
  • Lawyer
Posted (edited)

This post/thread is an attempt to aggregate helpful information about "Bay St Firms" in an FAQ format for new members of the legal community. I hope others will post similar information and expand the Q&A. Please feel free to submit more questions, answers, and/or both. I am definitely not an expert on any of this and only put this together in about an hour, although I do work on Bay St. Lawstudents.ca helped me many times over the years, so now it is time to give back! 

 

Q&A:

Q1: What is a Bay St Firm?

A: This generally refers to large, "full-service" firms serving primarily corporate clients in many business-related practice areas. Most "full-service" firms will have lawyers working in general corporate/commercial law (which usually includes general commercial, financial services, M&A, and securities), litigation/disputes, and tax. Common additional groups/subgroups include competition, employment/labour, bankruptcy/insolvency, IP, and real estate. The following are considered Bay St firms (non-exhaustive, broken down by how they are commonly grouped):

"Seven Sisters" (an informal ranking of firms that are perceived by some to have prestige and/or attract high quality/high profile mandates)

  • Blakes
  • Davies
  • Goodmans
  • McCarthys
  • Osler 
  • Stikeman Elliott
  • Torys

Other national firms:

  • BLG
  • Fasken
  • Bennett Jones
  • McMillan
  • Miller Thomson
  • Cassels Brock

Global Firms

  • Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Baker Mackenzie
  • Dentons
  • Gowling WLG
  • DLA Piper

Other non-national, full-service "Bay St" firms

  • Aird & Berlis
  • Lerners
  • WeirFoulds
  • Blaney
  • Folger Rubinoff
  • Torkin Manes

 

Q2: Is one Bay St firm better than another?

A: This is a difficult question to answer and depends on what is important to you. Like any job, think carefully about how important various factors are to you - like prestige, income, quality of life/hours, etc. The best firm for you to start your career with as a summer/articling student will likely be the one that can give you good, substantive experience in the practice group you are interested in, has space to hire you as an associate (or likely will), and provides a supportive environment for you to grow as a lawyer. Things like bonus, benefits, perks, etc can vary widely by firm. That being said, most firms can be somewhat differentiated based on the quality of their various practice groups and individual lawyers to some degree. See the following reputable publications for some rankings (take all with a grain of salt):

 

Q3: Should I work at a Bay St firm?

A: The answer to this question depends on the person. Some of the pros of working at a Bay St firm include:

  • Job stability (most summer students are hired back for articling and as associates)
  • Consistent exposure to high profile/complex files
  • high income (especially during articling; at some firms articling pay can be extremely low or non-existent)
  • lots of exit opportunities (for example, it helps you move in-house)
  • lots of resources (clerks, assistants, research lawyers, support staff)
  • in some circles, social prestige
  • Great networking opportunities - you will have the chance to meet and work with/for people at the top of the Canadian business world

Some of the cons include:

  • Long hours, high stress, bad mental health all common
  • Low morale/job satisfaction is common
  • as students (and even associates), you will likely get less substantive experience early on as compared to a boutique (especially in a group like litigation). At boutiques with less resources, the firm has to lean into its students/juniors more, resulting in more court appearances and/or more responsibility early on. On bay st you can get a lot of legal research and due diligence tasks which can get boring/stressful, as there are lots of associates to do the work that students might get to do at a boutique.
  • virtually no control over your workday, workload, and no control over what files you take on
  • possible you may have to advocate for / enable things that go against your personal beliefs (working for giant evil corporations, oil & gas work, tax loopholes, stopping unions, etc.)
  • Sometimes the real leaders in your field and/or the best practice groups can actually be found at boutiques

 

Q4: What kind of work does a summer student do at a Bay St firm?

A: Lots of legal research, due diligence (reviewing documents for issues, problems, etc). Assisting with trials, drafting documents from precedents (ex. commercial agreements, closing documents, board resolutions, prospectus drafts). This list could go on and on. 

 

Q5: Do I need to get hired as a 2L to work on Bay St?

A: No. There is also a 1L and articling recruit, and after articling most firms generally hire associates at all levels, depending on their needs. 

 

Q6: How do you get a 1L job?

A: This is likely the "most difficult" recruit in the sense that there are very few positions and a lot of applicants. You will generally need to have something that sets you apart and/or signals to firms that you are someone they will want to lock down early because they (a) want you and (b) know you would land somewhere else in the 2L recruit. I know people hired as 1L's who had numerous A-range grades in first semester; were formerly high level athletes; had impressive business backgrounds (i.e. starting a business, higher-level former job at large company, etc); had extremely impressive undergrad academics (i.e. gold medalist in their program, ivy-league undergrad, etc); and/or had impressive connections at the firm. 

 

Q7: How do you get a 2L job?

A: Participate in the 2L OCI recruit process. Things that will increase your chances of getting a 2L job include all the things listed above and below:

  • Good law grades (you will want to be at least in the top half of your class,  i.e. above a B-range average). Course prizes help
  • Exceptional undergrad grades, program, and/or institution
  • Good prior work experience
  • put in time preparing/practicing for interviews
  • applying broadly
  • networking with lawyers at target firms
  • moots, law journals, clinics

Please see other posts for a more in-depth look at this. The above is just for quick reference. 

 

Q8: How much do Bay St firms pay students?

A:  The market rate is $1900/week for summer students and articling students. Some firms pay $1700-$1800/week, while Davies pays $2,000/week for summer students and $2,250/week for articling students (additionally, most firms cover bar exam and licensing fees). Note that some firms do or do not pay signing bonuses and/or tuition bonuses to returning articling students. Some firms give December bonuses. This past year, many firms gave out a $5K one-time bonus to articling students. You can find out more on nalpcanada.com.

 

Q9: How much do Bay St firms pay associates?

A: The current scale is below (excluding bonus - this was taken from a previous LS post and may not be 100% accurate at higher years). Note that Davies pays first year associates $135K (and similarly pays above-market for all associates), and BJ pays them $120K. Also note that bonuses can vary widely by firm. Many firms also paid/will pay two additional 10% retention bonuses this past year.

  • Year 1: $110K 
  • Year 2: $130K 
  • Year 3: $150K 
  • Year 4: $170K
  • Year 5: $185K
  • Year 6: $210K

 

Q10: How much do Bay St firms pay partners?

A: There is little confirmed information on this. One article indicated equity partners at Cassels made between $335,000 to more than $3 million in one year. This will vary widely by firm. Gowling's numbers from 2018 are also available here (59% of £455.5M in revenue was generated in Canada, the firm had 407 Canadian partners, you do the math on what they likely take home net overheard etc). More estimates for other firms here.

 

Q11: How many students get hired on Bay St?

Please see ultravires.ca for the latest numbers from the 2L recruit. This site also contains 1L and articling recruit information

 

Q12: Does the phrase "seven sister" hold much weight besides being an informal grouping?

A: Not as much as it once did. As indicated above, a comparison of firms is not really possible, while practice group and/or individuals lawyers can be compared to a degree. Although many of the "Seven Sister" firms continue to attract high quality/high profile mandates, and are often highly ranked in various M&A league tables (which was the basis for the original grouping) in addition to holding many practice group rankings in publications like Chambers, many other firms have since increased their position in both the M&A and other legal markets. For example, Bennett Jones and Norton Rose consistently receive top M&A league table ranks. Additionally, Goodmans and Davies have not expanded nationally, possibly costing them certain competitive advantages that come with a presence in each of Canada's legal centres. Dentons is ranked 3rd on the global Acritas brand index. For an interesting (albeit perhaps now out of date) analysis of the legitimacy of this moniker, see this 2014 article: 'Seven sisters' no longer rule the Bay Street roost.

Edited by TobyFlenderson
Added Q12.
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QueensGrad
  • Lawyer
9 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

LOL. "Seven Sisters".

Let's try to keep this thread substantive and helpful, rather than get into a snarky discussion of whether the Seven Sisters phrase is legit. I think I adequately explained that this is an informal phrase that has meaning to some people but not everyone. 

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BlushAndTheBar
  • Law Student

It's at this point in time we need to decide if we are going to lend credence to Bob's/Dave's/Jim's (can't remember his name) Unofficial Bay St. Ranking from ls.ca LOL

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Jaggers
24 minutes ago, QueensGrad said:

Let's try to keep this thread substantive and helpful, rather than get into a snarky discussion of whether the Seven Sisters phrase is legit. I think I adequately explained that this is an informal phrase that has meaning to some people but not everyone. 

It has no useful meaning to anyone in 2021 and is a terrible way to start a thread about Bay St firms. 

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Barry
  • Law School Admit
30 minutes ago, QueensGrad said:

get into a snarky discussion

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

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QMT20
  • Articling Student

Personally, other than students I've only heard a partner at a non-"Seven Sister" Bay St firm and a recruiter at a non-Toronto office of a "Seven Sister" firm use the term. I'm not senior enough to really have an informed opinion on the value of the term but in my experience, partners at one of these firms are more likely to say "A, B, C, and D firms are the four big players in X area" than to describe firms as "Seven Sisters". 

That being said I think it's helpful to have the information out there especially since the OP notes it's an informal ranking and provides a lot of substantive information on Bay St, student experiences, recruitment, pay and everything. I think it's better for a student to read a post like this, know the term exists, and put it in context with Bay St in general than to hear about the term for the first time from their friends without any context. 

One thing you might want to add though is the PrecedentJD hireback watch. I know you talked about job security in the sense of hireback but I don't think you included a link. 

https://precedentjd.com/hireback-watch/toronto-wide-hireback-numbers/

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QueensGrad
  • Lawyer
27 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

It has no useful meaning to anyone in 2021 and is a terrible way to start a thread about Bay St firms. 

On the contrary, in a FAQ thread it answers the question, "what is a seven sister firm", which is an inevitable sub-question to my Q1, "What is a Bay St firm?"

 It would be great if you could add some Q&A and provide some useful content, and do so in a respectful manner (rather than telling me that it is "terrible" that I included an answer to an obvious question a student would have). For example, instead of saying it is "terrible", you might do the following Q&A addition, below (which maybe I should have done). Otherwise, I would appreciate it if you stayed out of this thread as I am trying to help law students and you are just a distraction. 

 

Q12: Does the phrase "seven sister" hold much weight besides being an informal grouping?

A: Not as much as it once did. As indicated above, a comparison of firms is not really possible, while practice group and/or individuals lawyers can be compared to a degree. Although many of the "Seven Sister" firms continue to attract high quality/high profile mandates, and are often highly ranked in various M&A league tables (which was the basis for the original grouping) in addition to holding many practice group rankings in publications like Chambers, many other firms have since increased their position in both the M&A and other legal markets. For example, Bennett Jones and Norton Rose consistently receive top M&A league table ranks. Additionally, Goodmans and Davies have not expanded nationally, possibly costing them certain competitive advantages that come with a presence in each of Canada's legal centres. Dentons is ranked 3rd on the global Acritas brand index. For an interesting (albeit perhaps now out of date) analysis of the legitimacy of this moniker, see this 2014 article: 'Seven sisters' no longer rule the Bay Street roost.

 

 

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Dussy
  • Law Student

Re "Seven Sisters"- from my experience (which admittedly is limited), I hear the term thrown around by people not working in the profession. However, these same people could not name the seven firms they are referring to nor do they know the term's origins. 

I also have two lawyers in my extended family who occasionally use the term, but in the same sentence acknowledge the term is out of date and does not include many excellent firms. One of these lawyers is a partner at a full-service non 'Sister' firm, while the other is a young associate at a 'Sister'

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Jaggers

That Q12 is actually helpful information, unlike the original Q1. 

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chicken
Posted (edited)

Just wanted to add for anyone reading this thread:

Absolutely no one cares that you got a job at one of these firms, and they also do not even know the names of these firms, unless they are other law students/legal professionals.

All you should care about is you do work you like, and that you make money (if you care about money).

The prestige spoken of isn’t what you think it is. Don’t be blinded by the law school stigma of “bay st or bust”. Once you graduate, no one will give a crap, and all you have is you, yourself, and whether you are happy or not.

Do not choose a lifelong career based on the name of the place, or the fictitious aura that surrounds bay st firms, that is created by the perception of those in law school. That is a recipe for disappointment.

 

Edited by chicken
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Barry
  • Law School Admit
15 minutes ago, QueensGrad said:

It would be great if you could ... provide some useful content

To be fair I think @Jaggers did. So now wouldn't it be useful to edit it and note the uselessness of the term? 

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TobyFlenderson
  • Law Student

There's a lot of potential value in this thread. Getting bogged down in the merits of an informal title distracts from the important information that students will be looking for in a thread like this. I have no Toronto/biglaw experience, so I can't comment on the usefulness of keeping the phrase/adding a disclaimer, but I've heard students use the term, so I can see why it was included in the OP. 

Let's stop with the personal attacks, though.

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Jaggers

I would say this about the term:

Strangely, the term "Seven Sisters" seems to have caught on in some circles, though it is meaningless as a term today. The "Seven Sisters" are the seven firms that were on the top of a table one year in the early 2000s for deals advised on by volume. The seven firms are Blakes, Davies, Goodmans, Stikeman Elliott, McCarthy Tetrault, Osler and Torys. These are all highly reputable firms, though there is little that distinguishes them from the other large national or global firms in terms of the type of clients and mandates they serve, or the experience a summer or articling student may gain.

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QueensGrad
  • Lawyer
36 minutes ago, MaxPower said:

To be fair I think @Jaggers did. So now wouldn't it be useful to edit it and note the uselessness of the term? 

Unfortunately it looks like I cannot edit the original post (I do not seem to have an edit button) but hopefully Q12 above will satisfy everyone to clarify what "informal grouping" means in this context

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OzLaw16
  • Articling Student

I don’t know if it’s a sign of a larger recent pattern or if it was just my particular peer group/students I interacted with, but I genuinely can’t remember a single student I spoke with while I was doing OCIs using the term “Seven Sisters.” Honestly, I might not have ever known that term existed if I hadn’t been an LS.ca lurker. 
 

Again, maybe I just had a unique experience, but it really feels like the “Seven Sisters” grouping is much more common in online discussions than it is in actual day-to-day student life. 

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easttowest
  • Lawyer

Rashabon pointed out on the old site that there are meaningful differences between firms in the list plus a few others and other firms on the street. A simple example I can think of right now is a “sister” firm has sent its summers a brand new home office set up (laptop/keyboard/mouse/dock/headsetand two monitors) for WFH summer while another national firm has asked its summers to use their own equipment. 

Now, I don’t know everything about all firms and it’s possible that other “sisters” firm students are using their own laptops. But I doubt it.

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Jaggers

A firm is asking a summer student to use their own laptop? We wouldn't even let someone in a call centre do that. The security nightmares could be endless.

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easttowest
  • Lawyer
5 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

A firm is asking a summer student to use their own laptop? We wouldn't even let someone in a call centre do that. The security nightmares could be endless.

Yes and they are very well-known, in most major Canadian cities and most students would apply there if “applying broadly” in the recruit. 

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Avatar Aang
  • Lawyer

This is also another "Con" to be added and helpful for future readers to know, but please do not think you can work in Big law, pay off your debt, then jump ship into other unrelated practice areas like criminal defence/Crown, wills and estates, labour law, immigration, family, government, legal aid, etc. without starting all over again from the beginning. You will have to take a massive pay cut and reset your career and compete with other lawyers who have actually practiced in these areas since law school days.

If you are someone who is unsure if Big law is for you and are simply following the bandwagon and drinking the kool-aid, think long and hard about the repercussions of this in the long-term. Think about which doors you want to keep open and which ones you are ok with closing. Actually take the time to go through the practice area sections on the firm websites and see if they interest you or if you are more interested in other practice areas practiced outside of Big law. 

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aflorrick
  • Articling Student
7 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

A firm is asking a summer student to use their own laptop? We wouldn't even let someone in a call centre do that. The security nightmares could be endless.

Last summer, students using their own laptops just connected remotely to a firm computer. No security issues - it really wasn't a big deal. 

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easttowest
  • Lawyer
5 minutes ago, aflorrick said:

Last summer, students using their own laptops just connected remotely to a firm computer. No security issues - it really wasn't a big deal. 

Sure, it works fine, but getting a big box with all your fancy new office stuff hits different. 

There are other bougie soft perks like the charcuterie platters/bottles of champagne delivered to your home to celebrate hireback, catered snacks in the afternoons when we were actually in office, much larger event budgets for summer activities... at the macro level the firms all do similar work and are all quite good, but the differences are there when you get closer.

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DonCorleone
  • Law Student

Anybody here familiar with Dickinson Wright? I noticed they recruit during the 2L cycle. It's a US based law firm with a Toronto office, but unlike other US firms (Paul Weiss) they seem to hire from schools other than U of T. Probably not as prestigious as Paul Weiss, but it looks like they do some interesting work. 

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Kurrika
Posted (edited)
30 minutes ago, DonCorleone said:

 Probably not as prestigious as Paul Weiss, but it looks like they do some interesting work. 

Don't worry about prestige.   Unless its a job with Morgans LLP or the SCC, it won't put food on your table or get you a job if you don't get hired back after articling.

 

Concentrate on trying to find out the areas of work they do, the training / experience you'll get working there and the firm culture and whether all of that is a good match to your own ambitions and personality.

Edited by Kurrika
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chicken
On 6/7/2021 at 2:40 PM, easttowest said:

Sure, it works fine, but getting a big box with all your fancy new office stuff hits different. 

There are other bougie soft perks like the charcuterie platters/bottles of champagne delivered to your home to celebrate hireback, catered snacks in the afternoons when we were actually in office, much larger event budgets for summer activities... at the macro level the firms all do similar work and are all quite good, but the differences are there when you get closer.

A temporary 12 week WFH set up and snacks/a charcuterie platter should not be a consideration for anyone in choosing a firm.
 

If these are the meaningful differences you speak of between bay st firms, you should reevaluate your outlook on career paths.

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