Perhaps because of my recent wedding anniversary, I have been thinking a lot about the importance of strong personal relationships in our lives, and how a career as a lawyer intersects with the process of partnering with someone, for those inclined to do so. Of course the decision of whether to marry at all is a personal one, just as the decision of whom to marry is.
So I will not tell you what to do — you will need to answer the question for yourself. But assuming that a lawyer does want to get married or otherwise establish a family with someone else, it is interesting to consider the question of whether to consider a fellow lawyer for marriage. Or to consider what marrying a lawyer means for a non-lawyer — at least in terms of the pros and cons of doing so.
During university years, the professors would constantly remind us that they were “training us to think like lawyers.” I am sure that everyone who has attended law school has heard something similar. Even though each professor articulated this important statement of purpose differently, there is no formulation that I remember distinctly, with one exception. What I do remember clearly is the message conveyed to the class by one of my professors, who was the only one willing to discuss the consequences of our legal training upon our future relationships. His message came at the end of the year and was both quite startling and stark. He told us, frankly and without sugarcoating of any kind, to expect that all of our personal relationships would be more challenging because of our legal training, especially if we actually went on to practice as lawyers. I do not remember much, but I remember that bit of sober wisdom.
My husband and I are both lawyer and we actually have a joint law firm. Sometimes people think we are crazy for working together, but I think the benefits greatly outweigh the periodic marital stress. That being said, though, being a lawyer married to another lawyer does offer unique difficulties and perks. Thus, I decided to compile some tips for others experiencing a dual lawyer relationship — just a few things I have learned these past three years of lawyering alongside my lawyer husband.
Enjoy Your Shared Interest in the Law
One of the best parts of being a lawyer married to a lawyer is always having a companion with whom you can discuss your legal interests. Your lawyer spouse not only has an interest in legal issues, but also can discuss them with knowledge and expertise similar to your own. It can be stimulating and exciting to be able to discuss case law and legal trends with another lawyer, and it is all the more invigorating when those discussions are also being had with someone you know well and whose opinion you respect.
So, indulge yourselves and enjoy law-related discussions often. Indeed, I find that my husband and I have some of our most engaged and passionate conversations while talking through recent court decisions and the effects of new legal precedent. While spouses of differing occupations can have engaging and intellectual conversations as well, I personally cannot imagine my life without the ability to discuss with my husband the detailed workings of my professional life. For us, it is one thing that makes our relationship stronger.
Remember to be non-lawyers too
When it is so easy and stimulating to engage in legal talk with your lawyer spouse, it can sometimes become too much a part of your relationship. Remember to be “normal people” too. Try not to let every date night and every dinner table discussion be taken over by legalese. While I mentioned the benefits of being able to engage in such conversations with one’s spouse, relationships can become somewhat one-dimensional if any one subject dictates all of your time together.
Furthermore, it is essential for lawyers to have down-time when they are allowed to think of anything or everything but the law. Thus, if you and your spouse talk law all the time, your relationship can begin to feel a bit too much like office time. You certainly must have some shared interests other than law, so be sure to engage in those as much as possible, as this non-lawyer time together will be good not only for your relationship but also for your sanity.
Be each other’s biggest supporter
Being a lawyer can be a very stressful, humbling profession. And, no one understands that more than another lawyer. When we have had a bad day in court or we are working on a particularly difficult case, we need support. Indeed, all lawyers can turn to their spouses for love and support after a hard day, but a lawyer spouse offers an exceptional amount of understanding and empathy, having been through the same stress themselves.
Thus, remember this as a strength in your relationship and be sure to offer that empathy and support willingly and regularly. As another member of their profession, it will mean all the more to your spouse to know that you understand where they are coming from and truly believe in their ability to succeed. Likewise, receiving support from your lawyer spouse can give you the confidence you need to keep going in this high-stress profession, so make sure they know how much you value their compliments and empathy as well.
Remember that you are two different lawyers
Along with all the support you offer your spouse, there is bound to be some advice as well. And, sometimes that may be welcomed by a spouse who feels uncertain or discouraged. But, it is important to remember that they are not the same lawyer as you. Indeed, it can be very tempting to criticize your spouse when they handle a case differently than you would, but you have to remind yourself that different does not necessarily mean wrong.
You and your lawyer spouse may have very different lawyering styles, and that’s okay; in fact, that’s a good thing. It is important for there to be all kinds of lawyers out there, just like there are all kinds of people and all kinds of cases. While it may be difficult to hold your tongue when your spouse lawyers differently than you would, remind yourself that they will be most successful if they be themselves and use their own style. And the same holds true for you — don’t let your spouse cramp your lawyering style. If you both give each other the breathing room to be your own kind of lawyer, you will find more success professionally and personally.
Relax like champs
Don’t get me wrong — everyone needs down time. But, lawyers need it badly. Lawyering can be incredibly stressful; hence the high rates of mental illness and alcoholism. Thus, lawyers need time away from it all in order to maintain their sanity. Put two lawyers together, and the stress in that household can be very intense. So, as lawyer spouses, you need to be able to relax well, both alone and together.
Family vacations and date nights are essential. Especially the vacations. Lawyers often have trouble leaving their stressors at the office; thus, real relaxation may require actual physical relocation. Find a haven, or many, where you and your spouse can get away from it all, be your non-lawyer selves, and relax. These getaways will give you the refreshment you need to continue being a lawyer and being married to a lawyer.