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While most lawyers seem to be looking to balance their work and home lives, Heather Borlase and Alan Bayer can’t keep the two separated. Nor do they want to � most of the time, at least. The husband and wife plaintiff attorneys run a two-person employment law boutique out of Cole Valley, specializing in discrimination and wage-and-hour actions. They work on cases and prepare for hearings together, and discuss new clients and finances. Their matching French antique reproduction desks form the letter L in one corner of the modest former ballroom that serves as their office. The duo said they gave careful thought to the idea of joining forces, but since making the move in 2003 they have found a groove in which their styles complement each other. “We really enjoy brainstorming and strategizing together,” Borlase said. “We practice oral arguments at work, at home, in the car,” Bayer chimed in. But he added that there is room for trouble in any partnership. “You better know your spouse really well, and that you’ll be able to keep an open line of communication, because disputes are not left at the office,” he said. “The downfall is that the business and personal bleed into each other and sometimes keeping them separated is a challenge.” To be sure, working with a spouse in the legal profession isn’t to everyone’s taste. Taking a hard line during disagreement, for example, is out of the question, Bayer said. But assuming the partners get along in their off hours, married couples report harmony and a partner who is almost always available as a sounding board. “It’s really helpful,” said Peter Rehon, who works with his wife, Lisa Roberts, in their San Jose boutique. “It’s like you’re living with a really good lawyer.” SIMILAR WAVELENGTH There are even hidden savings for clients, Rehon says, in the unbilled brainstorm sessions that happen over the kitchen sink instead of in the conference room. “In other firms we’ve been in, lawyers will sit around and brainstorm. Usually at least one of the lawyers will bill for it,” Rehon said. “With us, neither of us will bill it, because we’re at home. We are constantly brainstorming thorny legal issues and we never bill for this time.” Rehon and Roberts met at Buchalter Nemer in the mid-1980s, started dating in 1989, and married in 1991. Five years later, they opened Rehon & Roberts, a five-lawyer firm that handles lending transactions. They keep a wider degree of separation than Borlase and Bayer, working for different clients in separate suites in their downtown San Jose office.
Balancing Acts
Read The Recorder‘s roundup of the stock-option backdating scandal. There won’t be a test later … but there might be a subpoena.

“I think some people, probably mainly men, think that working with your spouse would be difficult because personal conflicts would infect the business environment,” Rehon said. “I think that would be true in any business with partners who do not get along personally. � I think with a good relationship, just the opposite is true.” Unlike Bayer and Borlase, Rehon and Roberts talk little at the office. “We work really independently,” Rehon said. “We’re both very focused at work. I’ll save issues and questions for certain times in the evening and early in the morning when we sit down and talk.”

‘Some people � think that working with your spouse would be difficult � I think with a good relationship, just the opposite is true.’

PETER REHON, who runs a boutique firm with wife Lisa Roberts

Because their practices are so similar and they talk so much at home about work-related issues, the classic disconnect faced by spouses in different professions is moot for them, Rehon added. “If I have to work late, she totally understands,” he said. “You don’t have the typical husband and wife, not understanding what the other is going through. If Lisa’s working late, I know why it’s important.” Retired superior court Judge James Warren, now a JAMS mediator, said some firms have “anti-marriage policies” because a frank exchange of ideas can be compromised if married partners put domestic harmony before candor. Discussions about what discovery to file, how to depose a witness and what order witnesses ought to go in are rife with disagreement, he said, and emotions can run high. “Often at a law firm you can take a fairly blunt tone if a disagreement comes up,” Warren said. “I often wonder if it would be more difficult for a husband and wife to disagree with one another because once you’re done at the office, you have to cook spaghetti together.” TRUSTING YOUR PARTNER Mary and Kevin McCurdy have been married for more than 20 years. Since 2003, they have been running a litigation firm based in Menlo Park, employing three partners and eight associates. Both have experience working at bigger firms and have witnessed meetings where discord kept partners from making a decision. “I think it’s easier with your spouse because you know your spouse better than other partners, so you’re more in tune with their thinking and you’re able to reach consensus easier,” Mary McCurdy said. Her husband agreed. “Mary and I usually are on the same page on hiring. We tend to have the same reaction when we meet and interview somebody.” When they have a hard time reaching a decision, Kevin McCurdy said their Southern California partner, Vanci Fuller, plays the role of tiebreaker. But that doesn’t happen very often, according to Fuller. Not everyone can or wants to mix the public and private. It didn’t take much for Covington & Burling corporate securities partner Bruce Deming to figure out that working with his male partner was not their cup of tea. While clerking for Boston judges in 1993, he and his partner wrote an article together, evaluating whether affirmative action as a remedy for discrimination could be applied to lesbians and gay men. It was “quite difficult,” Deming said. The two had different writing styles, and different views about the analysis and conclusions. The article wasn’t a disaster and there was no yelling, he said, laughing, but the “quiet, boiling rage” he felt signaled that it would be better to keep personal and professional separated. “Taking care of the relationship is often more important than being right,” Deming said. “And in the practice of law, getting things right is more important than necessarily being genteel or taking care of the feelings of the person you’re working with. They’re different objectives.”

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