A time of great change in the criminal bar

Dec 29, 2014 By Matthew Friedberg
The practice of law is increasingly challenging from a business perspective, especially for younger lawyers, as there are various forces working against the profession, Toronto-based criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg tells Lawyers Weekly.

“Things in criminal law are changing very, very quickly and it’s not the same practice it used to be five years [ago],” he says. “Nobody really knows where legal aid is really going to be in five years, and what it’s going to look like.”

Although 2014 was a busy year for his firm, Friedberg tells the legal publication that he has observed a decline in the number of cases going through the courts and he attributes this to several factors, including a drop in crime rates, the growing use of the diversion program and the legal aid system.

Friedberg makes the comments in an article about the state of the legal industry in Canada this year and the outlook for 2015. The publication describes 2014 as not being a "banner year" because it was affected by the dissolution of Heenan Blaikie, which sent several hundred lawyers into the market, and the industry continues to deal with the downturn in the economy. As a result, recruiters use words and phrases such as "not a home run" and "hesitate" to describe activity in 2014, says the publication.

That said, there's some mild optimism among those monitoring hiring and management trends in the legal market who say there may be a return to “more normal activity," says Lawyers Weekly.

The article says that Robert Half Legal’s 2015 salary guide predicts “The legal job market in Canada is expected to see modest gains in the year ahead, with growth in the litigation and corporate law practice areas driving much of the hiring."

As well, the publication says "the company is forecasting an increase in salaries anywhere from 2.5 per cent to almost five per cent, depending on the size of the firm and the experience of the lawyer."

Robert Half concludes that the job market for recent graduates and articling students is “conservative,” while corporate legal departments are taking a “strategic approach” to growing their staff.

Friedberg tells Lawyers Weekly that criminal lawyers in particular will be forced to think more about the business aspect of the operation and will have to place more emphasis on advertising, social media and other forms of outreach.

He says in the article that he wouldn’t be surprised if lawyers expand their practice areas into personal injury or family law because the marketplace may not be able to support such a large criminal bar.