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“The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship,” quipped Joseph Story in his 1829 inaugural lecture as the Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University. While this may be true, for those of us who are beyond our 20s, it might be more accurate to say, “The law is a jealous nanny.” The courtship phase of a legal career easily allows for multiweek trips to review documents in exotic West Texas and late nights spent determining whether Skowhegan Savings Bank v. SEC is still good authority. But when children arrive, lawyers should view the lavish homage the law demands somewhat more sensibly. From business trips that conflict with your preschooler’s doughnuts-with-dad days to trials set during the week your daughter leaves for college, it is hard to find a lawyer whose family hasn’t had to make significant personal sacrifices to accommodate the lawyer’s career. More insidious, however, are the ways in which practicing law can quietly spill over into the daily routine of family life. While it may be mentally healthy to separate practicing law and home life, in many instances it is nearly impossible. After a day sitting in front of the computer reviewing a 42-word merger clause in the hopes that, with enough time and mental calisthenics, the words will magically change in your client’s favor, a lawyer is unlikely to sincerely wonder how his or her spouse’s day at home went. In fact, it takes a great deal of personal fortitude during domestic chats not to mentally move on to questions such as: Is the equal dignities rule really a law, or is it more of a guideline for a court to throw out when convenient? A spouse often bears the brunt of the lawyer’s inability to separate self from work. Indeed, it takes a special person to put up with a lawyer in the home. Who among us has not subjected a spouse or significant other to sagacious, appellate-quality oration on the question whether it is necessary to actually fold a blanket before stuffing it into the closet? Who among us has not proven through penetrating cross-examination that it was not, in fact, our turn to put the dishes away? A significant other, I think, does best when he or she learns to simply tune out during these lawyerly exchanges. Interestingly, kids seem to have a natural ability to assimilate legal concepts into their daily routines. Unlike a spouse, who has experienced life before the law, children don’t know that home life with an attorney tends to be strange. From an early age, lawyers’ children learn to back up their arguments with support, preferably in the form of documentary evidence. Even in the elementary school years, lawyers’ children can be spotted by their tendencies to preface statements with phrases such as “in fact,” and to number the points in their arguments. Siblings present written contracts to each other to ensure performance. Children’s ability to recite their parents’ prior inconsistent statements with a high degree of accuracy would make a court reporter blush. Here’s a scene that occasionally takes place in my family. The venue is the neighborhood pizza restaurant, with The Honorable Daddy presiding. Katie (asserting a complaint of trespass to chattels): “No fair! Sally took the last piece of pizza.” Sally (lodging an affirmative defense grounded in equity): “It is fair, because your pieces were bigger.” Katie (asserting a general and special denial in reply): “That’s not true; they just looked bigger. . . . I challenge you to a trial.” All Children: “Yea!” Katie: “Dibs on being the plaintiff!” Sally (moving for a realignment of the parties and to recuse the judge): “That’s not fair. You know dad always finds for the plaintiff. I want to be the plaintiff, and I want mommy to decide.” Katie (opposing the motion): “You can’t, because you’re the defendant. Besides, Billy will represent you.” Billy: “Yea!” Sally (rejecting appointed counsel on grounds of incompetence): “I don’t want Billy to represent me. He’s only 5 years old and always pleads guilty to get a piece of candy from the judge.” All Children: “Daaad!” However, as much as lawyers’ children pick up about the details of practicing law, it can be difficult explaining the nuts and bolts of day-to-day practice to them. Sally: “Daddy, what do lawyers do? Megan’s dad is a doctor, and she said he helps people who are sick.” Dad: “Well, lawyers are a lot like doctors — we help our clients feel better, too.” Sally: “How do you do that?” Dad: “Umm … well … we go to meetings, make a lot of phone calls and look for typos in our opponents’ legal papers that we can cleverly quote back to them with a ‘sic.’” Sally: “That sounds sort of boring.” Dad: “All in a day’s work, darling.” Whether they actually have a real understanding of what their parents do, lawyers’ kids — like most children — idolize their parents and believe they have superhuman abilities. Recently, one of my children, disappointed in a grade, announced at a particularly delicate point in a parent-teacher conference: “My dad is a lawyer, and he’s a really good negotiator.” Obviously, we had failed to properly woodshed our witness. As lawyers who want to attain a reasonably healthy balance between work and home life, it is important to remember that it is our families — and not the law — who love us. Successful lawyers give their all at work, making sacrifices of personal time when necessitated by clients’ needs but without sacrificing the essential connection to their home lives. While a lawyer’s family life may, out of necessity, look a little out of the ordinary to some, late dinner times and an uncommon fixation on rhetoric don’t harm most children and spouses. A lack of personal attention can harm them, however, which is why balance is necessary to keep the family — and the jealous nanny — content. Steve Malin is of counsel at the Dallas office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood and the father of four children. He practices commercial and patent litigation in Texas and around the country.

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