ice cream

Is Your Life Partner Sabotaging Your Law Practice?

ice creamBack when my much missed husband and I were in the early weeks of dating, I declined his invitation to dinner, explaining I wanted to finish up work on a law review article that I was writing for “fun.”   While most guys would have taken my pathetic excuse as a brush-off, my husband, never one for subtext, took me at my word. Later that night, he showed up at my apartment (where I was indeed toiling over this ) with a pint of Haagen Daz) saying something along the lines of “you deserve a treat.”

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my husband’s late night ice cream delivery service made him a keeper. What’s more, years later, after we married and I launched my practice,  it made him integral to my law firm’s success, from those early salad days when I wasn’t sure that I’d actually find a paying client to the  years that our daughters were small and I was running on empty to more recent years as I found success, and he played both cheerleader and sounding board.

While it’s true that starting a firm when you’re married or living with someone who can pay the bills can relieve some financial pressures (you keep a roof  over your head and often don’t have to worry about insurance),  at the same time, an unsupportive partner can also make your life a hell and ultimately cost you both lost opportunities and lost confidence.  Consider some of these remarks that I’ve overheard while visiting with friends where one partner is starting a business or that starting solos have shared with me:

“No – I can’t watch the kids while you go to that networking event. It’s my poker night.”

 “Do you really need to spend money on a laptop for your law firm when you can just use our home machine?”

 “Why didn’t you go to the grocery store – didn’t you just sit at home all day?”

 “Ugh, do I really have to go to your colleague’s holiday party? I won’t know anyone there.

 “Are you sure you want to start your own firm? If it’s about the money, I can tide us over until you find a real job.” 

 “What does my [husband/wife] do? Sits around all day pretending to work.”

By contrast, consider how much easier it would be to start a firm if you heard these words instead:

Sure, I’ll take care of dinner and make sure the kids do their homework – why don’t you go out for drinks with your client.”

 “OK, so at this event, can you introduce me to that lawyer you were telling me about? He sounds really interesting.”

 “I know you need that new computer, so let’s just figure out how to make it happen. You’ll cover the cost with one new case.”

“Hey, did you see my [husband/wife] in the story in the Post today?”

 “Look, it’s just going to take time to build up your practice. You have to stick with it.”

 “No, mom, [he/she] is not sitting home. S/he is working really hard trying to get a law firm off the ground.

Starting a law firm is tough enough without having to defend your choices, or constantly feel guilty that you’re not doing your fair share.  But you should never settle for second place when starting a firm. Your life partner can have your back by reassuring you of your decision, helping out when needed and simply being proud of you — or he or she can stab you in the back with snide, passive-aggressive comments and deeds. What kind of partner do you have?  Mine was a keeper.

What was your partner’s or spouse’s reaction when you started a firm? What was the best or worst thing they did? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Susan Cartier Liebel on June 13, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Fortunately, mine has always had my back. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t start a practice with someone who doesn’t get it. It means that you have to work around this obstacle. Unfortunately, many people who don’t create a business don’t understand what’s involved and this makes it harder for the solo lawyer because they need to find someone other than their partner who DOES get it. And in some ways, it can be a good thing…knowing you can’t bring work home! Half empty; half full. It can still be done.

  2. Cliff Tuttle on August 13, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Like everything else, getting the support of your spouse requires investment of time and energy. You must keep her informed so she understands why you must work when everybody is playing. I take mine to court and actually listen when she gives me her take. The remarks I read above are more a product of ignorance than a bad attitude.

    Cliff Tuttle
    PITTSBURGH Legal Back Talk

  3. martyn on September 5, 2016 at 5:23 am

    What a great post! The dynamics of our relationship with our wife and children pretty much dictate what we do career wise, whether its starting our own firm or working all hours at another law firm. There is nothing more compelling than sitting down and doing the maths with your partner on what can work best both with family commitments and income – once having seen how things add up that should quell the “why haven’t you done the groceries today?” comments!

Leave a Comment