If You Feed Them, They Will Come

When I articled, if lawyers or law students worked past 6 pm, they were welcome to dine at the firm’s expense, as long as they returned to the office to work after dinner.

That sounded like a great deal to a lowly paid student, and I was impressed with how considerate the firm was. Being a slow learner, it took me a while to realize that the firm was trying to encourage lawyers to work late into the evening. It took me even longer to figure out that the lawyers would often work until just after 6 pm, go to dinner until 7:30 pm, and return to the office just long enough to be seen by some partners, and then leave.

At my first job as a lawyer, the managing partner would buy bagels and cream cheese on his way into the office on Saturday morning and everyone would have breakfast. There was no point arriving late on Saturday or you would miss the food.

At the firm where I spent most of my career, all that we provided to our lawyers was a fridge with soft drinks, cheese, and yogurt, and a snack basket which was put out every evening at 5 pm. At one point our Chief Financial Officer decided that we could save a few dollars and tried to discontinue the snack basket tradition. Predictably there was a rebellion. Complaints were made and the snack basket quickly reappeared.

Of course, the real winners in the food derby were lawyers like me who would find a reason to justify charging lunch to the firm most days. Of course there were the lunches with clients, potential clients, and referral sources where I was almost always expected to pick up the tab. Occasionally people who I had lunch with would pay, unless they were bankers. For some reason, bankers never paid.

When business development could not justify having the firm pay for lunch, there was always the possibility of meeting with an Associate or Partner to discuss a file over lunch. We could charge that to the firm also and justify it on the basis of how much time we docketed to files while eating.

And of course, we could also discuss management matters over lunch and charge that to the firm as well.

Whenever we had an educational seminar at our firm, we would schedule it over lunch and provide a meal to the participants. We did this because we tried not providing lunch and found out that if we did not feed the lawyers for free, some of them would not be bothered to learn the law required to properly advise their clients.

The very best food that we ever served was reserved for our annual client appreciation event. Since our lawyers were so committed to eating at our expense, it was necessary to meet with them before the event and remind them that they were there to network, not to eat. Of course that never stopped me from loading up my plate. There are priorities in life, after all.

I don’t miss much about practicing law, but I do miss the free food.

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