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While many lawyers are doing what they can 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 lawyers operate a two-person employment law boutique in San Francisco’s Cole Valley neighborhood, specializing in discrimination and wage-and-hour actions in behalf of plaintiffs. They work on cases and prepare for hearings together, along with discussing new clients and finances. Their matching French antique reproduction desks form the letter L in one corner of a modest former ballroom that serves as their office. Borlase and Bayer say they gave careful thought to the idea of joining forces, which they did in 2003. Since then, they say they have found a groove in which their styles complement each other. “We really enjoy brainstorming and strategizing together,” says Borlase. “We practice oral arguments at work, at home, in the car,” chimes in Bayer. But there is still room for trouble, as there is 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,” adds Bayer. “The downfall is that the business and personal bleed into each other. Sometimes keeping them separated is a challenge.” Working with a spouse in the legal profession isn’t to everyone’s taste. Taking a hard line during a disagreement, for example, is out of the question, says Bayer. But assuming the partners get along in their off hours, husband-and-wife legal teams often tout the benefits of working with partners who are almost always available as sounding boards. “It’s really helpful,” says 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.” Clients can also benefit from hidden savings. Rehon, for example, points to unbilled brainstorm sessions that can 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,” says Rehon. “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 a few years later and married in 1991. They opened their firm, which handles lending transactions, in 1996. They keep a wider degree of separation than Borlase and Bayer by working for different clients out of separate suites in their downtown San Jose office. “I think some people, probably mainly men, think that working with your spouse would be difficult because personal conflicts would infect the business environment,” says Rehon. “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.” Rehon and Roberts, whose firm has grown to five lawyers, don’t spend too much time together at the office. “We work really independently,” says Rehon. “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.” James Warren, a retired San Francisco judge who is now a mediator at JAMS, says some firms have “anti-marriage policies” because a frank exchange of ideas can be compromised if married partners place domestic harmony before candor. Discussions about what discovery to file, how to depose a witness and what order witnesses ought to go in can trigger lots of disagreements, he says. “Often at a law firm you can take a fairly blunt tone if a disagreement comes up,” says Warren. “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.” 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 that includes 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,” says Mary McCurdy. “So you’re more in tune with their thinking and you’re able to reach consensus easier.” Her husband agrees with her. “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, the two lawyers will turn to their Southern California partner, Vanci Fuller, to play the role of tiebreaker. Not everyone, of course, likes to mix their professional and private lives. It didn’t take much for Bruce Deming, a corporate securities partner at Covington & Burling, to figure out that working with his life partner was not their cup of tea. While clerking for Boston judges in 1993, he and his partner wrote an article together that evaluated whether affirmative action as a remedy for discrimination could be applied to lesbians and gay men. It was “quite difficult,” recalls Deming. 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 says, laughing. But the “quiet, boiling rage” that he felt signaled that it would be better to keep the couple’s personal and professional lives apart. “Taking care of the relationship is often more important than being right,” says Deming. “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.” Petra Pasternak is a reporter at The Recorder, which publishes California Employment Law magazine.

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