Bay Street firms are cutting back on alcohol // The lawyer’s guide to not drinking

A photo of wine glasses.
Three large-firm diversity officers talk about the recent shift in workplace drinking culture

By Simon Lewsen

On Tuesday March 3rd, 2020

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The legal profession is finally catching on to a simple fact: lots of people don’t drink. Across Bay Street, diversity officers at the largest firms are taking proactive steps to diminish the role that alcohol plays in legal culture. “We are working hard to ensure that our workplace is inclusive,” says Nikki Gershbain, the chief inclusion officer at McCarthy Tétrault LLP. “This obviously means including people who don’t drink for whatever reason.”

The boozy office reception, for instance, is undergoing a major renovation. Having nonalcoholic options at such events is an essential first step. If these options are tasty and prominently displayed, that’s even better. The goal isn’t just to provide sober alternatives, but to send a message that these items aren’t alternatives at all. When McCarthys hosts a soirée, no drink tray leaves the kitchen unless some of the beverages are booze free.

Similarly, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP now hosts celebratory breakfasts and afternoon teas, instead of only cocktail parties. “When we hold dry evening events, we specifically announce in advance that they’re dry,” says Laleh Moshiri, the firm’s national director of diversity and inclusion. “That’s very important.”

For Moshiri, sensitivity around alcohol is critical during recruitment season, a time when candidates feel enormous pressure to conform. BLG recently held a recruitment event in Montreal with three drink stations; one was devoted to flavoured water and other nonalcoholic items. In a similar vein, the McCarthys Toronto office recently developed a set of guidelines to foster an inclusive recruitment process. One recommendation is that lawyers follow the lead of applicants — only ordering alcohol, for instance, if the applicant does so first. And if alcohol is part of a meal, the guidelines suggest that it be consumed sparingly.

Meanwhile, Osler, Hoskin, and Harcourt LLP now offers mocktails alongside alcoholic drinks at social events, a change that reflects a trend in the hospitality industry. Many restaurants and bars now offer a growing list of premium alcohol-free choices. “Society’s perspectives on alcohol consumption are ever changing,” says Steven Cline, a career development officer at Osler. “And it’s great to see the legal industry is keeping up.”


This story is part of “The lawyer’s guide to not drinking,” published in our Spring 2020 Issue.


Photo courtesy of Marco Verch