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Money talks and young Canadian lawyers have ears. They have legs, too, and are using them to cross the border in record numbers — mostly for jobs in New York City, with its skyscraping legal salaries. Although exact figures are not available, recruiters and academics agree that a trend is clearly under way: The Canadians are coming. Robert J. Kafin, chief operating partner at Proskauer Rose, called the trend a “phenomenon.” And it has occurred in “such a short period,” added Associate Professor Robert S. Reid of the University of British Columbia. “Four years ago, [starting] salaries at the firms in downtown Vancouver were about $30,000 [U.S. $19,607],” said Reid, who serves as assistant dean of his university’s Faculty of Law. “Then the New York firms started getting more aggressive in their recruiting, and so now the [starting] salaries are $55,000 to $60,000 [U.S. $35,948 to U.S. $39,216]. “But compare that to the offers from New York: $120,000 to $140,000, in American dollars, plus bonuses … . As one of my colleagues says, ‘Is it too late for me?’ “ Canadian students are attractive to New York firms because they study the same tradition as their American counterparts: British common law, according to one law firm recruiter, “and so much of this [the practice of law] is apprenticeship anyway.” AHEAD OF THE CURVE Five years ago, at the ripe age of 25, Ottawa-born lawyer David M. Shoemaker stepped ahead of this emigration curve. “In my day … ” Shoemaker stopped himself, realizing how few years have passed since his days at the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law. “ When I hear myself say that — My God, I sound like an old man. “Well, nobody [from New York] recruited back then. So I just wrote away to some of the top New York firms. I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of response. But the next thing I knew, I was down interviewing at Cravath [Swaine & Moore]. It was me recruiting them.” Shoemaker landed a summer associate job at Cravath, which he and his wife looked upon as “a wonderful, no-strings-attached opportunity,” as he put it, to experience life and work in “the financial capital of world.” He was subsequently offered a permanent position at Cravath, where he worked for several years before joining Proskauer Rose as a litigator specializing in sports law. New York City, said Shoemaker, offered “the highest level of legal action I could seek out.” Taking a job in Toronto was “not what I ever regarded as a second-best opportunity, but it was certainly the safe one,” he said. Shoemaker acknowledged the financial benefit of locating in New York. “The prospect of being able to pay off student loans in a real hurry and at a very attractive exchange rate — well, that’s certainly something,” he said. A certain legal tradition peculiar to British Commonwealth states — the “article” year, a formal mentoring and apprenticeship program beyond the normal three years of law school, at a traditionally low rate of pay — distinguishes Shoemaker, who completed his article year, from countrymen who have followed in his footsteps. Now many young lawyers from Canada go right into the first year of legal practice in the United States, skipping the article year. “It’s not an institution that makes much sense,” said Charles R.A. Morse of “articling,” as it is commonly known. Morse, 30, was raised in Edmonton, Alberta. He was educated in the United States, however, earning his Juris Doctor at Harvard Law School. “A lot of people resent it [articling]. I’ve heard friends call it ‘indentured servitude.’ “ Nonetheless, after graduating from Harvard in 1995 and before joining Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, Morse served two clerkships in the Alberta Court of Appeals. That work would reduce his articling requirement to about four months, should he return to Canada. But Morse has recently accepted an associate position with the Washington, D.C., office of the Cleveland-based international firm Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. He begins on July 2. “When you move laterally, you do so very seriously. I’m not moving to Jones Day thinking I’ll do this for only a few years and then go back to Canada,” said Morse. “Besides, sometimes what happens with Canadian men is that we meet American women who have no particular interest in going to Canada.” Such is the case with Morse. CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITY The city’s close-knit and growing community of Canadian lawyers routinely talk of returning home, according to Geoff Gilbert. Gilbert, 30, was a classmate of Shoemaker’s at Western Ontario and works now as a corporate associate in the New York office of Torys, the Toronto-based international firm. “I haven’t ever talked to anyone [among Canadian lawyers] who’s definitely said — flat-out — yeah, I’m staying in New York forever,” said Gilbert. “Everyone envisions themselves going back to Canada. It’s a Canadian thing. We need our toffee crisps.” Gilbert echoed the importance of money as a motivator. “There’s no question that economics makes a tremendous amount of sense,” he said. “Canadians emerging from law school have only a fraction of the debt load that American students face. In a few short years [at a New York firm], you get ahead of the debt curve. The difference in salaries between Toronto and New York is about triple. “But then there’s the whole other thing going on,” Gilbert said. “Living in New York — the greatest city in the world, where you’re faced with cutting edge problems, whether you’re a litigator or doing transactional work.” As a lawyer with the imprimatur of the Law Society of Upper Canada, a mandatory bar association, Gilbert enjoys the best of two worlds. “I exploit my Canadian contacts, and therefore feel close to home,” he said. “Yet I’m in New York, with all the considerable benefits.” Returning to Canada to continue a legal career, even with the articling requirement fully or partly complete, may not be as easy as it might appear. “You have to go through a process of national accreditation,” said Victoria Meikle, assistant dean for admissions and placement at McGill University Faculty of Law in Montreal. “It’s not necessarily a direct route back. There are various exams, and possibly some course work.” CANADIAN ‘BRAIN DRAIN’ Dean Meikle is concerned, too, with the sensitive matter of the “brain drain” of Canadian professionals, a very serious political issue. “It’s a big issue for law firms here in Montreal, too, as well as Toronto and Vancouver and elsewhere,” she added. “Right now, people are saying it’s the best and brightest who are going to the States. I don’t think that’s entirely true, though. “With regard to lawyers, it’s very hard to know what they’re going to do with experience gained in New York and other American cities — whether they’ll bring it back to Canada.” That would be one of the factors that Paula A. Patton means to include in a tracking study of Canadian lawyers — a project she expects to begin soon in her capacity as executive director of the National Association for Law Placement in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Patton confirmed Meikle’s worries. “Our Canadian [law firm] members are running in fear because of the brain drain,” Patton said. “They’re losing their talent. “In terms of its [competitive] impact on jobs for U.S.-trained lawyers, I would have said even three months ago that it was minimal,” she said. “The bar will go up ever so slightly a notch,” said a partner at a major New York firm who requested anonymity. CHANGING ECONOMY But he said that no one could reasonably make major alterations in recruitment at this time because the economy is so quickly changing. “As far as this fall’s recruiting goes,” he said, “the results won’t show up until the fall of 2003.” At Proskauer Rose as well, Kafin agreed. “There is an increasing demand for young lawyers by all the large firms of the world, and the demand has exceeded the traditional supply,” said Kafin. “The number of people who graduated last year from Harvard, say, is not that much greater than the number of graduates 50 years ago. “And 50 years ago, there wasn’t a single law firm in the world that had more than a hundred lawyers. Now there are 40 firms with more than 600 lawyers. So, we’ll have to recruit at more schools, and we’ll have to look deeper.”

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