Family Matters: How to be a great lawyer and still make it home for dinner

We lawyers like to play Tetris with our time. We break days down to the hour, if not the minute. We appreciate deadlines and the consequences of failing to meet them. As a criminal prosecutor, I’m never late for court and I always make deadlines. As a business owner of several stone quarries, I’m on top of my game. But as a father of four, I’m often late for family dinner — or worse yet, I miss it altogether.

For years, I blamed my absence on external forces. Court got out late and I needed to prepare for tomorrow’s trial. The commute took longer than expected. I had to make a call just as I was walking out the door. Then, I came up with internal excuses. I’m a hard worker. The better I perform at work, the better things will eventually be at home. People rely on me because I’m committed to my to-do list. If that means missing family dinner here and there, well that’s simply the cost of doing business.

Then, one day, a friend challenged me: “If you’re so keen to complete your to-do list, Paul, why not just add be home for family dinner to the list?” And he was right.

I instantly began to make changes. The result was transformative for me and for my family. Here’s how you crush it as a lawyer and still make it home in time for dinner.


Live backwards

Reverse engineer every day, beginning with family dinner. That’s the deadline. Meet it. Break down your day by time slots rather than tasks — and aim to eat the ugly frogs first. My day might look like this:

8:30 to 10:30: Prepare and file motion
10:30 to 12:30: Confirm discovery dates, begin memo to partner
12:30 to 1:30: Lunch meeting
1:30 to 3:30 Finish memo
3:30 to 5:30 Put out unexpected fires
5:30 to 6:00 Margin for error
6:00: Leave work
6:45: Get home, wrestle kids, eat dinner. Then, begin bedtime bribery routine.


Pack your bags

At the start of each day, pack an item you can easily work on from your couch at home, along with your favourite pen and highlighter. (Don’t pretend like you don’t love your highlighters. I know you do.) This way, come quitting time, you can easily walk out the door when you planned, and no time is wasted scrambling to find suitable work to take home.


Start small

Making it home for dinner five days a week may be too tall an order. Put it in your to-do list for three days and work your way up. Better to succeed at three, than fail at five. The most important principle? Don’t give up when you do fail. Treat dinner like any other goal — when you hit it, celebrate. And when you miss, try again right away.


Paul Attia, Lawyer, Family MattersPaul Attia is a husband, father of four, business-owner and assistant Crown attorney in Toronto.




Top photo from Beatrice Murch

Judge Foodie: Carbon Copy

Carbon Bar
99 Queen St. E. | 416.947.7000 |

Carbon Bar, the funkier, rowdier little brother of staid Nota Bene, has just opened, and it’s spectacular. Located on the edge of the downtown core in the building that housed CityTV’s first studio, it has been renovated into a two-storey space showcasing exposed brick and massive girders. On one wall there’s a glowing Baby Blue sign, a tribute to the Baby Blue Movies, CityTV’s softcore porn movies that aired after midnight in the ‘70s and scandalized Toronto. If you want to impress clients with good food and bit of Toronto history, Carbon is your place.

The menu is best described as blend of Southern, Latin American and Texan contemporary cuisine. The star of the menu is wood-fired meat, but Carbon also has a more-than-adequate selection of interesting vegetarian/pescatarian options (for instance, octopus and lobster gumbo ($22), wild mushroom n’ grits ($19))

The wine list is solid but not extensive, and wines are grouped into three categories to keep it simple: $39, $59 and $79. Cocktails tend to be bourbon- or tequila-based, as per the current fashion, and are kept interesting by an adventurous bar staff with access to unusual ingredients.

My dining companion and I sit at the bar, and some of Carbon’s start-up pangs are apparent. While the proprietors have sensibly hired experienced staff, they haven’t yet settled into their routines.  For instance, things don’t yet have “a place” and we were amused as a bartender would reach for garnishes only to find that another bartender felt they should live elsewhere.

We start with appetizers, ordering cheese croquettes with apple-chipotle sauce ($9). Our server warns us no fewer than six times that the croquettes are hot. (“Hot. I mean really hot. Like cheese lava.”) My dining companion raves about them, but I’m not sure I’d order them again. I would have no such reservations about the pulled pork sliders, however ($5 each). Chef David Lee’s preoccupation with all things barbecue has paid off, and the pork is succulent and smoky beyond description.

I learn quickly and so I concentrate on the meat and order the Pit Master Platter featuring ribs, beef brisket, jalapeño sausage, pulled pork, and turkey (minimum 2 people, $29 per person; goat ribs are available on Fridays). The platter is the showcase dish for Lee’s talents, and the campfire taste is all throughout the meats, which are tender and pink and, frankly, glorious. I do, however, feel sorry for the sausage, which, while good, is simply outshone by the rest of the meats.

Carbon offers a short dessert list including banana toffee cream pie for two ($16), cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich ($9) and a variety of ice creams and sorbets, but I’m too full for dessert. However, sitting by itself under the heading “Just a Taste” is the Carbon chocolate bar, a two-bite offering of bitter chocolate, pecan ganache, and bourbon caramel ($3). It’s a perfect end to the meal – satisfyingly sweet, but not cloyingly so.

Comparisons to Nota Bene are inevitable. If they were lawyers, Nota Bene would have the tax practice; Carbon would be criminal defence. Staff at Nota Bene are clothed in muted colours and are tidy and tucked; Carbon’s staff are no less professional but the guys running the place are in velvet blazers. I also appreciate the mix of clientele – most of the watering holes in the core are dominated by men in suits. Carbon, however, achieves gender parity and draws financial folks, artistically-inclined Toronto Lifers, and regular folks out for a good time.

Nota Bene is a destination because of its food; Carbon is a destination because of the experience, of which the food is a part.

Judge Foodie’s Verdict

Highs: décor, food
Lows: a bit off the beaten track and somewhat isolated