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Philip Slayton.The Globe and Mail

Excerpted from Bay Street, by Philip Slayton, with permission from the author.

"Piper," said Watt, speaking in a hushed tone and looking grave, "shut the door." When the door was closed, Watt lowered his voice even more, almost to a whisper. Piper strained to hear what he was saying.

"Piper, this is important," he said softly, and paused.

The pause seemed to last for a long time. Eventually he spoke again, very slowly. "Piper, Canadian Unity Bank is planning a takeover of Liberty Insurance. I'd like to put you on the team that will lawyer the transaction. It's a big, big deal. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest if I say, it's transformative. Transformative! The transaction is secret for the minute. You must not say anything to anybody. Piper, this is a great opportunity for you."

Watt leaned back in his chair with an air of great satisfaction.

Piper tried to seem solemn. She concentrated on the words "big deal," wonderful words to a corporate lawyer, rolling the phrase around in her head, conscious that Watt was fixing her with what he would probably describe as a laser-like look.

"It'll be long hours, Piper, a lot of midnight oil. You and I will be working very closely together. It'll be a large team–tax people, intellectual property people, securities lawyers, banking experts, lots of junior folks, chimps to shuffle the papers, we always need chimps. Are you up for it?"

Watt tried to look serious and calm, but his excitement was obvious. By now, he had abandoned his whisper and was speaking in a normal, even loud, voice. His face was slightly flushed and his left arm twitched in a peculiar way. It occurred to Piper that he might have a neurological problem. She noticed that his old-fashioned plastic-framed glasses were askew on his face.

"Of course I am, Jim. As you say, a great opportunity!"

She gave Watt a big smile and did some quick mental arithmetic. There were two months to go before the end of the partnership's financial year, and so far she only had about twelve hundred billable hours. In the fall, every partner's share of the firm's profits would be reassessed by the compensation committee. Go before the committee with her billable hours hundreds short of what was considered acceptable? They'd cut her back by fifty, maybe a hundred, thousand dollars a year. Warn her too. She could hear it now. "Couple of years to turn it around Piper, we're sure you can do it, but if not…"

"If not" meant out on your ass, fixed up with a poorly– paying general counsel position at one of the firm's smaller clients, expected to shovel work back to the mother ship, invited to an annual cocktail party for Dibbets so-called "alumni," or worse, taking refuge in a small law firm in the suburbs, a storefront operation, with boring work, a tiny income, and endless shame. But to be on the Canadian Unity Bank/Liberty Insurance takeover team, that had to be good for two hundred billables a month or more, all those long nights revising documents, shuffling papers, maybe two hundred and fifty billables a month, who's counting? Two months of that would get her into the safe zone. The compensation committee would treat her well. They wouldn't cut her back. They might even move her up to half-a-million a year. Piper, she said to herself, remember why you're here.

"When do we start, Jim?" asked Piper, giving Watt her Susan Sarandon circa 1976 smile.

"Let's have a meeting of the core team at eight tomorrow morning, main boardroom. We'll get it all sorted out, who's doing what. Remember, don't tell anyone about the deal, anyone at all. There's hasn't been an announcement and won't be for several days. Illegal trading in the target's stock would be a disaster. Be careful."

• • •

Piper ate an egg salad sandwich in the firm's cafeteria, sitting alone at a corner table, reading the Toronto Sun. She liked to eat lunch by herself and flourished the Sun to discourage anyone from joining her. When she'd finished the sandwich, she threw the newspaper in a recycling bin, its job done, and went back to her office on the floor below.

Dibbets had ten floors in the fifty-storey Canadian Unity Bank building at the corner of Bay and Prince in downtown Toronto. The bank, called "CUB" by everybody, was Dibbets' biggest client as well as its landlord.

The legal fees charged CUB by Dibbets each year were always almost exactly the amount of rent CUB charged Dibbets. Did that mean anything? No, said people in the know, of course not, it meant nothing at all, it was just a coincidence, a happy coincidence mind you, certainly a good thing for everyone concerned. For many years, as a sign of the special relationship between the bank and its lawyers, a senior partner of Dibbets had sat on the bank's board, occupying what had come to be known as the "Dibbets seat." These days, the Dibbets seat was occupied by Jim Watt.

Back in her office, Piper looked at her computer.

Chart-the-Day was on the screen. All Dibbets lawyers used this software to keep meticulous track of how they spent their time. When they came into the office in the morning they turned Chart-the-Day on, and they didn't turn it off until they left. Between when they came in and when they left, every minute had to be accounted for, in six-minute segments, by a computer entry. Activity codes were used to describe what the lawyer had done in each six-minute segment; most important of all was entering the six-digit number assigned to the client who was going to pay for the work. Activity codes were things like "RL" for reading law, or "MT" for sending a memo to someone, or "AM" for attending a meeting, or "TF" for taking an incoming telephone call. "RL" was a favourite; that was what lawyers put down when they couldn't think of anything else to put down; they often couldn't think of anything else; clients were frequently amazed by how much law was being read on their behalf.

Watt had once told Piper, when she was just an associate– he already had his eye on her and spent a lot of time giving her advice that he hoped people in the office regarded as strictly avuncular–"Piper, I bill portal-to-portal, and so should you. I come in at eight in the morning, and I leave at seven at night, that's if I'm lucky and get to go home and have dinner with Amanda and the little Watts. Eight to seven. That's eleven hours. Someone, Piper, someone, has to pay for that time, all of it, every last second. Portal-to-portal, Piper. That's the way to do it. That's what Dibbets expects from its lawyers. Bill portal– to-portal, Piper, and you'll do well here."

She looked at her computer screen. It was flashing "TWENTY MINUTES UNACCOUNTED FOR." She typed in "MRNF," the activity code for "meeting re new file." "CLIENT AND FILE NUMBER REQUIRED," demanded Chart-the-Day. The client number was easy: every Dibbets lawyer knew CUB's client number off by heart, 907855, that number was the ticket to riches, and Piper typed it in. But what was the file number?

This was a new matter; no file had been opened up yet by Watt; there was no file number. "FILE NUMBER REQUIRED," said Chart-the-Day, "FILE NUMBER REQUIRED."

"Fuck!" said Piper. She turned the computer off, but she'd have to deal with Chart-the-Day when she turned it back on the next morning. Chart-the-Day didn't forget.

She looked at her watch. Ten-to-six. A bit early to go home. Watt liked to walk the floor about seven in the evening to see who was working. The rule for junior lawyers, even junior partners, was, don't leave before Watt.

Be sure Watt sees you, the later the better. Watt would stick his head around a young lawyer's door and say, "Still here? Better go home to the wife and kids!"

"Can't do that quite yet, Jim. Need to get this contract finished up. Client wants it first thing in the morning.

It's a tricky one. Hope to get out of here by midnight, if I'm lucky. It might be an all-nighter."

Watt would smile and move on, and the lawyer in question would go back to checking his Facebook page, RL for 907855, thinking what wife and kids would that be, asshole, I'm not married. But he had been seen by Watt, that was the important thing, and could leave at the first opportunity, which meant a few minutes after Watt had left. You had to wait just long enough for the managing partner to clear the underground parking lot in his Mercedes-Benz S Class sedan.

It was a bit different when Watt put his head round Piper's door in the early evening. "Piper, for someone working so hard you look fresh as a daisy! You should relax a bit. What say I take you to Mario's for a drink?"

Sometimes Piper said yes and went to Mario's with Watt.

She couldn't always say no; constant rebuff of the managing partner would be too dangerous; she had to think of her career. Piper hated the way Watt took her to a banquette in the corner of the sleazy restaurant across the street and squeezed in beside her, his leg pressing against hers.

"Dry martini?"

"That would be great, Jim. But not too dry."

"Now, tell me Piper, just how are you getting on and what can I do to help? You know, Piper, I think very highly of you and want to see you get ahead. With my help, you've got a great future at Dibbets!"