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Kenneth J. Finger’s solo practice was booming, and he needed help to do the work. Luckily, the White Plains, N.Y., lawyer did not have far to look. He set out to recruit a dedicated student he knew at New York’s Pace University School of Law, a woman with “quite an astute legal mind” and an excellent academic record. “You can obtain the quickest partnership of anybody in your law school class,” Finger told his wife, Dorothy. Twenty years later, the firm of Finger & Finger, was again swamped with work. This time, they hired an energetic young man from the Westchester County, N.Y., District Attorney’s Office — their son, Carl L. Finger. Many attorneys like the Fingers have turned the law into a family business. Traditionally, many sons have gone to work with their fathers. In recent decades, as law schools have churned out female graduates, more husbands and wives have been hanging out shingles together. The experience of the spouses is reminiscent of when many more husbands and wives worked together to run a family business. Some lawyers are enthusiastic about the arrangement. “You’re with your other half all day long,” said Alisa Stein of Haverstraw in Rockland County, N.Y., who practices with her husband, William M. Stein. “What could be better?” Other attorneys, however, adamantly oppose the merger of work and family. One local lawyer, who refused to work with her husband, used to joke with colleagues: “For better or for worse, but not for lunch.” A husband and wife who work together may fall into a competitiveness that is not good for the practice or the marriage. A son or daughter may bridle at being treated like a child rather than a professional. Lawyers who are not part of the family frequently complain that a favored son or daughter is being advanced too quickly. INTRUSION AT HOME Lawyers who practice together sometimes have trouble leaving their work at the office. “It’s all-consuming,” said Ronnie Gorez-Berman of White Plains, N.Y.. She and her husband Henry Berman sometimes make pacts that they won’t talk about the office for more than one hour at home. The pacts are frequently broken. For Dorothy Finger there is no problem. “If you take it home, you’re sharing something you enjoy,” she said. Sarah R. Dreyer and Darryl J. Dreyer have other priorities. Their 22-month-old and 8-month-old sons claim most of their attention when they get home from the Newburgh, N.Y., firm of Silver, Forrester, Schisano, Lesser & Tamsen, where they are both associates. Lawyers who practice the law with close relatives concede that such togetherness is not a good idea for everyone. “We can tell each other what we think,” said Dorothy Finger. “Sometimes that is a good thing, but sometimes it is a bad thing.” Some problems can be mitigated if each lawyer carves out his or her own legal “space.” The Fingers may work together on some cases, but they also have their own clients and their own specialties: he does zoning, while she works on worker compensation cases. Working in the same office does not mean you have to spend every minute together. “In the beginning, I think people thought I was sitting on his lap all the time,” Dorothy Finger joked. Ms. Dreyer’s advice is “do not allow both attorneys to be in the office all day long. You need some ‘alone’ time in the office.” For the Dreyers, that separation is provided when Mr. Dreyer is in court, while his wife stays in the office. She also may stay at her desk while her husband has lunch with co-workers. Ms. Dreyer joined the firm in 1994, her husband last year. She joked that she told her colleagues there would be no problems “as long as I made partner first.” A TRUST COMPONENT Despite the potential pitfalls of working together, bouncing ideas off of somebody you know and trust can generate a sharing of ideas and experiences beneficial to lawyers and their clients. The success of the arrangement “is truly a function of what your relationship is like,” Mr. Stein says. “If you get along at home, you will get along in the office,” Ms. Finger adds. Mr. Finger, who is now 60 years old, already had been practicing for 16 years when his wife graduated from law school. Ms. Finger, now 57, previously had earned a master’s degree in economics, but was unsatisfied by the business world. On the other hand, “I don’t think I knew anybody who loved what he did as much as my husband did.” With her law degree in hand, joining up with her husband seemed like common sense. She had two young children so commuting into New York City would have been difficult. And she did not want to join up with any of her husband’s competition in Westchester County, N.Y. Her husband had built the practice, and his wife expected to learn the practice from him. “It was his vision,” his wife said. But “it was hard to think of him as the boss,” she said. “I was not a kid.” There were no power issues because “my husband is a very secure individual with a strong ego. He loves my success.” Kenneth Finger added that his wife “is a very independent person. I like to think that we all have an equal say.” AN ADULT RELATIONSHIP Carl L. Finger, 32, said that he has a similar relationship with his mother and father. “Our relationship is an adult relationship,” he said. “They have always treated me as a professional.” With a stake in the family business, he said he likes the fact that “while I’m working with them and for them, I’m working for myself.” The Fingers have another son –Daniel, 26 — who works as a lawyer in New York City. He could join the family practice some day, but Kenneth Finger said he believes it is a bad idea to “pop into a parent’s practice” without first developing some skills and contacts on your own. Like Kenneth Finger, William M. Stein started his practice years before his wife went to law school. (There were only three or four women in his class at Fordham, compared to half of her class at Pace.) “The plan always was that I would go to law school and that we would go into practice together,” Ms. Stein said. The Steins, who are both 50, had run a large volunteer organization at SUNY-Buffalo and a gourmet food shop, so they knew they could work well together. Ms. Stein expected to learn a lot from her husband. Seven years after she joined her husband, he is still the senior partner — “it gave me the chance to be the boss of something in our relationship,” he laughed — but she frequently suggests the answer to legal problems in their commercial practice. For his part, Mr. Stein said, it is a tremendous asset to work with “somebody who knows how to be honest with me in every aspect of our lives.” The only drawback is that he sometimes has difficulty being objective with his wife. Seymour Greenblatt of Newburgh, a prominent Orange County trial attorney, asked his son Richard to work with him because “he was bright, he was alert, and he was my son.” Greenblatt, who is 82, had wanted to be a lawyer since he was 7 years old, and “I felt he would enjoy it as much.” However, Richard’s increasing prominence angered a partner who left and tried to take his clients with him. “It was a nightmare,” said Richard Greenblatt. Other firms have also experienced resentment by non-family members when a family member is thought to be gaining advancement or extra compensation in an inequitable manner. While Richard Greenblatt was growing up, his father was, he said, “my hero. Everything he did seemed to exemplify what is right.” Working with his father was an opportunity to get to know more about him. One thing he discovered was that his father did not pay too much attention to written papers. “I did not want to write a novel,” the father said. “The courtroom was my drama.” His son spent a lot of time editing his father’s writing in the early days of their partnership but concedes today that his father may have been right. “Most of this stuff is not read by anybody,” he said. “And my father can go into a courtroom and be very effective.” (Seymour Greenblatt suffered a heart attack shortly after he was interviewed for this story.) WEEKEND OFFICE CHAT James W. Winslow, who is married to Richard Greenblatt’s sister Elaine — the three met at Brooklyn Law School — joined the firm several years after his brother-in-law. He said that his father-in-law treated him just like a son. They all used to get together for weekend dinners over which they would discuss legal cases and share courthouse gossip. In the office, the interplay of personalities is very important. “We each kind of pull our punches with each other,” Winslow said. “Nobody goes for the jugular.” Winslow’s wife, who is a Dutchess County Family Court hearing officer, is “adamantly opposed” to any idea of her joining the firm, he said. Aaron N. Troodler, 26, has been practicing with his mother Meryl C. Troodler, 51, in the Rockland County, N.Y., community of Nanuet for only a few months. Mrs. Troodler’s father, Isaac S. Canetti, also was an attorney — “the best lawyer that I know” — as was her mother-in-law. She said that her son, who has ideas about broadening the practice, is “a terrific young man and very competent.” Their styles are different, however. He is “much more low-key and easygoing than I am” although Aaron has been pushing her to be more aggressive in collecting overdue bills. So far, the two are getting along well. “She’s a terrific lawyer. She’s tough and professional,” said Aaron. “There’s no better teacher than my mother.” The atmosphere in the office is “businesslike.” His mother said, “You always have to remember that the person is an adult.” Aaron said he heard lots of horror stories about young lawyers practicing with their parents. “It is not something you can just jump into without giving it due consideration.” Jeff Storey is a freelance writer and a law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

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