Edible hours

From catered lunches to homemade cookies, top firms are plying associates with delicious perks
From catered lunches to homemade cookies, top firms are plying associates with delicious perks

After a long morning of ploughing through case work, Emily Larose, a sixth-year associate at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, is in the midst of the easiest decision she will make all day: whether to have the roast turkey or the cranberry glazed pork.

Illustration by Amedeo De Palma

Both are part of a tempting spread cooked up by renowned chef Rose Reisman, who has been providing catered lunches to the firm’s 200 lawyers everyday for the past four years.

Before Reisman, the highlight was hotdog Fridays. Now there is homemade soup, a rotating menu of salads and entrées, side dishes like garlic potatoes, and three or four desserts.

Deborah Glatter, director of professional development for Cassels, invited me to drop by and sample the fare on offer. In their 21st-storey boardroom overlooking Toronto’s downtown core, I dined on delicious oven-roasted turkey and scrumptious scalloped potatoes. Most lawyers, however, loaded up a plate and made a beeline back to their desks.

“If you’re stuck eating at the firm, it makes a much more pleasant environment if you’re eating something that you’re happy to eat,” explains Glatter, on the firm’s decision to provide elaborate lunches. “Our lawyers work very hard and they’re under a lot of pressure,” she says, “so to be able to give them a good, healthy lunch is kind of the least we can do.”

From catered lunches and well-stocked fridges filled with sushi and salads, to delectable dinners, many Bay Street firms are keeping the food flowing to keep their lawyers happy.

Of course, it isn’t only about keeping spirits up. Everyone’s done the math, but few want to go on the record: As one associate from a Seven Sisters firm observed on the condition of anonymity, “The business model is not that hard to figure out. There’s only one source of revenue.” More hours at work means more profit for firms.

None of the firms Precedent talked to would disclose what they spend on food, but I doubt they’d argue with the business case: an hour spent in the food court is an hour you didn’t spend billing. And fishing food out of lawyers’ keyboards is a small price to pay for the extra profits. Still, most are happy to enjoy their meals on the firm’s dime. As the Seven Sisters associate says, “If I’m here until nine at night, I don’t want to be. I’m thrilled I don’t have to get my own food.”

Image by Amadeo De Palma












When it comes to food, there’s a bit of a rivalry going on downtown. Some firms, like Cassels, bring in caterers, while others come up with other ways to satisfy their associates’ hunger.

McCarthy Tétrault LLP has built its reputation not only as one of Canada’s top law firms, but also as one of Bay Street’s top bakeries. In the McCarthys kitchen, five cooks bake 1,500 chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin cookies in-house every day. While the treats have become famous over the years, McCarthys offers up a lot more than cookies.

Lawyers who work through dinner can order a meal made from scratch by the firm’s food services division, with a choice of chicken, beef, fish or vegetarian options and various side orders and salads.

“Our lawyers are often working on large transactions that may involve different people in different time zones to get the job done,” says Kirby Chown, the firm’s Ontario regional managing partner. “You’re here until very late. When you’re tired and you’re working hard, eating takeout pizza night after night gets kind of boring.”

Tony Brown, the manager of food services at McCarthys, estimates that he and his staff serve as many as 400 people   each day. And if you think your caffeine levels are high, consider this: nearly 1,000 cups of coffee are consumed every day by staff and lawyers at the firm.

“We have a lawyers’ room here that is accessible 24-hours a day for our legal staff that we try to keep stacked with sufficient fuel to keep them functioning,” says Marc Gignac, who oversees food services at Torys LLP, another firm with an impressive menu.

Among that fuel is an organic seasonal fruit selection that is refreshed three times a day. “Currently it’s a selection of dates, red and green grapes, beautiful Ontario peaches, and some of the usual suspects like apples and bananas,” says Gignac.

The lawyer’s room at the firm is also stocked with fresh sushi, yogurt, cheese, granola bars, and trail mix.

“Typically, later in the afternoon we’ll stock some ready-to-eat meals in there. That could be some composed salads, variations on the Cobb salad or Caprese, or some more main-course items. This week down on the rotation there’s orange roughy with tomato-avocado salsa and biryani rice and seasonal vegetables.”

It’s not only big firm lawyers that are eating well. At boutique litigation firm Lenczner Slaght, dinner is available to lawyers every night.

Koo & Co., a catering company owned by celebrated chef Dinah Koo, has served dinners at the firm including Asian stir-fries, roasted chicken, lasagna, and gourmet burgers (a firm favourite).

Some young lawyers might resent having to trade dinner at home for a catered meal in the warm glow of a computer monitor. Usman Sheikh is not one of them. The second-year associate, who eats at the firm between two and four nights a week, admits his cooking skills leave something to be desired, and says he appreciates having the option.

The mouth-watering menus available at some firms may be too much for other lawyers to bear. One Bay Street associate without fancy food perks was surprised to hear about the culinary delights his peers enjoy. “I’m hungry right now,” he complains. “I’m jealous.”

Photography by Amedeo De Palma