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Big-time lawyers are pros at waiting for judges' tough decisions, but yesterday afternoon at Nixon Peabody in the District, some may have posted fewer billable hours until results of the firm's 19th annual cook-off were handed down.

The competition pits men against women, which could lead to actionable territory and dangerous stereotyping. Yet, it has helped build camaraderie among all departments, firm employees say, pointing to Nixon Peabody's ranking among Fortune magazine Top 100 Best Companies to Work For, three years running. Still, the trash talk leading up to the cook-off can start two months in advance, when planning meetings and team captains are chosen. Attempts have been made in past years to choose sides differently -- by floor, say, instead of along gender lines. Those negotiations have failed.

Some companies set up tennis or golf tournaments, which can draw more male than female employees. Nixon Peabody's cook-off turns out to attract partners and paralegals alike and is even more popular than the bocce tournaments it has held in the summer.

Not all the women in the firm, which has 216 employees in its Washington office and about 1,725 nationwide, agree on the event's attractions. Women's team co-captain and associate Emily Hargrove, 30, says that although more women than men participate, she still ran into plenty of resistance from women in the firm who said they don't cook; they just make reservations.



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