The law firms with the best lifestyle culture

By: September 10, 2009

These firms make sure you're happy, healthy and entertained

Numbers aren’t everything. Sure, they’re useful when ranking firms on the biggest deals, or the most courtroom wins — you know, what really matters to summer students. But when it comes to intangibles, like a firm’s culture and quirks, statistics really aren’t much help.

Precedent has pushed past the data to find out what’s actually going on inside some of Toronto’s largest law firms. We assigned three reporters to check out the 17 Toronto firms that hire the most students. Our team delved into how they operate online and in the real world and met with key members at each firm. Armed with that intel, we then made some highly subjective judgments.

The result? The first-ever Precedent Anti-Ranking: a totally unscientific compendium of random things you need to know about Toronto’s top firms.


Most healthy eats: Cassels

Foodie lawyers are best served at Cassels, where health guru Rose Reisman caters a hot lunch for partners and associates every day. Davies similarly satisfies, with regular lunches that feature vegetarian and kosher options. Blakes has been known to serve oranges and almonds in their boardrooms and hold wellness seminars to teach their lawyers the benefits of a well-balanced lifestyle. Torys, Miller Thomson and Stikeman Elliott all have fruit bowls for hungry lawyers looking for a quick and healthy snack. For those looking for something a little less wholesome, it’s not hard to find a good cookie. Some firms bake them fresh daily in-house, while others import them from local bakeries. Most contain a fair quantity of chocolate.

Sample lunch menu from Cassels

Classic Light Caesar Salad
Crisp hearts of romaine tossed in a light garlic dressing with herbed focaccia croutons and fresh shaved parmesan
– – – – – – – – – –
Seared Salmon
Marinated with maple and soy

Black Bean Chicken

Wild and White Rice
With assorted julienned vegetables

Sliced Cold Cuts, Sliced Cheese, Sliced Breads & Rolls
– – – – – – – – – –
Whole Fruit
Including apples, pears and bananas

Antiranking_hThe rise of the café culture

Cafeterias are so 2008. The hottest trend at firms today are swanky lounges and high-end cafés.

When Bennett Jones recently renovated their First Canadian Place offices, they added a large common space with a supper club ambiance boasting sleek tables, comfortable seating and a wall-mounted flat screen television. The idea was to create an inviting room for every member of the firm, allowing summer students to mingle with senior partners.

Other firms have run with the same idea. The lounge at Stikeman Elliott is adjacent to a meeting room so that the two spaces can be combined for larger social events. All of the firms moving into the Bay Adelaide Centre will have similar lounges in their new offices.


The Precedent Sports Awards

A little competition is a good thing. And so is a little exercise. Precedent checked out the firms that compete on the field, on the ice and in the lunchroom. Winners all around.

Most Valuable Player: Stikeman Elliot
These four-time softball champions have a firm grip on athletics. Body slam your associates at the twice-weekly shinny games in Moss Park, join the soccer team or running groups, or just focus on the breath at a yoga class.

Best All Around: Cassels Brock
Sports junkies unite around the water cooler thanks to a thriving sports law group and associate David Goldstein. A panelist on The Grill Room, he sometimes leaves the office early to profile players at Raptors games for an American daily newspaper. Cassels is a sporty bunch with a touch football team, runners, golfers and former OHLers.

Sports firm of the Year: Faskens
New partner and motorcyclist Jeff Clark revved up a group of associates to bike to Lake Placid, N.Y. and came back with only one injury — Clark’s separated shoulder.

The Gretzky Award: Torys
With several in-house hockey teams — and occasionally even a female one — this firm shoots and scores. Two former lawyers are managing NHL teams, the Vancouver Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets and partner Mike Siltala played for the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers.

Most Promising: McMillan
With a foosball table as the main attraction in the firm’s lounge, could they follow in Heenan Blaikie’s footsteps and form a dodgeball team next year?


Every once in awhile, lawyers are forced to leave the building and socialize with their colleagues. This forced mingling usually takes place at parties and retreats. Precedent surveyed the firms on what they’ve been up to recently. As for what’s in store for the future? No surprise: most are scaling back their spending this year in the name of fiscal responsibility.

Firms party

Enough with the Yuletide cheer already. Goodmans get points for shifting their usual holiday party to the off-season — last year they threw a black & white party at Casa Loma in February. One point each for thinking outside the Royal York: Heenan Blaikie (for partying at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District), Miller Thomson (Palais Royale) and Osler (Simpson’s Tower). While Torys still hearts the Royal York, other firms heart its party: last year when BLG and Ogilvy’s parties wound down early, revelers joined the Torys-packed dance floor.

Associates retreat

Ski, shoot, snowmobile, or spa — whatever the activity, all 79 associates from Faskens‘ Toronto and Ottawa offices descended on Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec for the most recent firm retreat. Meanwhile, partners from South Africa to Vancouver jetted to Laguna Beach, CA. Firm-wide retreats are just too big, explains Tony Di Domenico, an associate in his third year of practice. “We are the future of the firm so it’s important that associates get to know each other.”

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