Husband and wife attorneys working side by side is no longer an oddity in an era that has wiped away policies barring couples from law firms.
Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis has 15 married couples and two more pending engagements. Partners Linda and Dennis Myers in Chicago helped push aside the firm’s former policy against married lawyers in the mid-1990s, when Linda, a Kirkland associate at the time, mentioned that her securities lawyer fiancé might be interested in joining the firm. Firm leaders decided they needed securities attorneys more than the policy.
“For the firm, this has been a successful experiment,” Dennis said.
Ten years ago, many firms banned couples mainly because of the problems that could follow divorces, but such policies have given way to a host of couples across the country practicing together. The attorneys say their marital-professional bond allows them to see more of each other, given long work hours, while clients often gain with two legal minds for the price of one.
When Charna Sherman and her husband David Weiner were discussing a 2003 move to Squire Sanders & Dempsey’s Cleveland office, the firm knew the white-collar defense lawyers would join only as a pair and they did ultimately. That was also the case with Solomon and Adrienne Wisenberg, another pair of white-collar attorneys, who joined the Washington office of Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg last year.
“We’re good together,” Weiner said. “We’re great together,” Sherman chimed in.
Most married lawyers say the professional respect they have for their spouses has nurtured not only their careers, but also their marriages. “It either works famously or it is a catastrophe,” said Thomas Moore, a medical malpractice attorney and senior partner at New York-based Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore who is married to senior partner Judith Livingston. “I am glad to say it has worked famously in my own situation.”
Clients benefit in that counsel received from one lawyer is often the product of discussions between the spouses. For instance, when a couple asked Laurel and Joel Bellows, who have their own general practice firm in Chicago, to review a car accident case, they specifically asked to meet with both lawyers to get two views, Laurel said.
“Our pillow talk is often about a case and there’s no billing going on,” Joel said.
For many of the attorneys who work long hours, they’re happy to be able to see their spouse more often because of the proximity.
“I married him because I love him, and what a great thing to get to spend your work day with your mate,” said Patricia Refo, a commercial litigator in Snell & Wilmer’s Phoenix office who works one floor away from her commercial litigator husband Don Bivens.
Still, the lawyers also try to act as separate professionals to prevent misgivings among colleagues. In addition, they don’t want their professional lives to encroach on their personal lives. For instance, the putting green is no place for a conversation about witnesses, Weiner said.
Mark and Alexis Breyer, who lead the Breyer Law Offices in Phoenix, have less separation between work and home life. It’s not unusual for one of their seven kids to run through the office or for the baby to be heard crying from a room connected to the office.
Like many other couples who work on cases together, Mark and Alexis divide their labor along skill sets. He’s the “arguer” who handles all the trial work and she takes care of negotiations and client relations, she said.
Similarly, attorneys Stephanie Scharf and Jeffry Mandell, who have been married 30 years and just started trying criminal cases together last year, divvy tasks up. They strategize together: Scharf prepares, examines and cross-examines expert witnesses, and Mandell handles the rest of the trial. They’ve got a fourth murder trial coming up next month after three successful outcomes.
“If we lose, we can help each other get through that too,” Mandell said.