Working at Canadian vs. International Law Firms

Posted February 8th, 2023 by Stacy Cowan

In a previous article, we discussed the benefits of working at different-sized law firms. Now let’s explore the advantages of working at Canadian vs. international law firms. 

From embracing cultural differences to becoming a fixture in your community, there are many factors to consider.

Job satisfaction at Canadian law firms

Research from April 2022 shows that 64% of associates at law firms in Canada are likely or somewhat likely to search for a job elsewhere. Those under the age of 40 were especially eager to find employment outside their current firm. These respondents justified their feelings by citing:

  • Low compensation (or a poorly-structured compensation system)
  • Lack of career progression
  • Feeling undervalued
  • Low regard for employee well-being

These factors are relatively simple to address. Many law firms here in Canada have already addressed them. The same research shows that plenty of associates—about 40% of them—are very happy working at their current firm. These respondents cited:

  • Higher compensation
  • A more balanced workload (due to frequent new hires)
  • Lower billable hour targets
  • Alternative paths to partnership
  • High regard for employee well-being

Canadian law firms can increase their lawyer retention by focusing on the above items. Beyond these factors, the benefits of working at a Canadian firm are expansive. There’s a great deal of camaraderie in working with like-minded colleagues, and plenty of opportunity to truly connect with members of the community. And whether you work in a major city like Vancouver or a smaller town, lawyers can reap the benefits of the Canadian work culture. 

Why work at an international law firm?

Some Canadian lawyers may instead choose to find employment at an international law firm. These are just some of the reasons lawyers may choose to work at an international firm. 

Exposure to more complex cases

There are currently 13 Canadian companies on the Fortune Global Fortune 500 list. Lawyers who want to work on major, international assignments may choose to work in cities outside of Canada for a greater breadth of opportunity. 

Ability to travel abroad

Whether they’re based in Canada or abroad, lawyers at international firms will generally have plenty of opportunities to travel outside the country. This will expose them to new processes, innovative technologies, and different ways of working.

Broader compensation range

While Canadian salaries are quite competitive—especially compared to the global average—certain overseas markets can offer a significant pay increase. Although the cost of living may vary, this is certainly something to consider.

Professional growth

When it comes to personal development, working for an international firm offers some serious opportunities for enrichment. By connecting with new people and foreign cultures, you can challenge yourself as you put forth your best work.

Who knows? You may be able to work abroad for a few years, return to Canada, and come back with a new perspective. This will make you a more competitive candidate as you move forward in your career.

Learn more about choosing the right law firm

Do you need help selecting the right law firm for your unique abilities? My name is Stacy Cowan, and as the founder of Calgary-based Urban Legal Recruitment, I match partners, associates, and in-house legal counsel with the best firms and companies for their needs and qualifications.

Choosing which firm to apply your hard-earned skills to is no simple task. It varies from person to person, and the pros and cons of different size firms are somewhat complex. 

I would be happy to work with you to take those next steps. I can help you navigate a range of both local and international firms looking for top talent and connect you with your next role. Please contact me for more information, or submit your resume to get started on your search. I look forward to hearing from you!