The Love Life of Lawyers and Those Associated within Law Offices
by Mary Waldron
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Lauren Stiller Rikleen, partner at Massachusetts law firm Bowditch & Dewey and author of Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law discovered a great deal about the inner-workings of romantic relationships within law offices while conducting research for her book. After speaking to literally hundreds of women in law, she found that there seems to be a slew of affairs and hook-ups in firms that usually end unhappily. In many law offices, when a man and woman get romantically involved—which tends to be a byproduct of the consistently consuming work hours that prohibit lawyers from dating outside of the office—younger women, perhaps associates, got involved with men who were senior to them in the firm. "Whether or not the relationship lasts, in most of those instances, what tends to end up happening is the woman has to leave that workplace," said Rikleen.
Rikleen also found that a tremendous amount of marriages in law end in divorce, resulting in a surge of worry in lawyers, specifically in women, that their marriages or future relationships may be doomed because of their career choice. "There was definitely a perspective that there is a very high incidence of divorce among lawyers and that that comes from the stress of the 24-7 commitment of the job," said Rikleen.
Being a lawyer herself who has been married to her husband, also a lawyer, for 35 years, Rikleen found this consensus to be a bit shocking. "I was startled by how many people said that either their marriage failed or they know a lot of other people whose marriages failed because of the stresses of work," she said.
This raises the issue that lawyers are not allotted enough time in the day to develop new relationships or nurture current ones. Lawyers and experts alike agree that too many law professionals are trapped in their offices, bogged down with mental commitments, and have to intense of a fixation on their work. Attorneys in their early 30s or younger, who Rikleen spoke with, voiced a real concern about how their jobs would affect their chances of meeting someone to marry.
"The hours tend to cut down on your hanging out time at bars. You tend to meet a different crowd than you would with the 5:00 p.m. crowd. You miss a lot of the nine-to-five type women that you would usually meet," said Joel Sherman, a sole practitioner from Tampa, FL.
Sherman has observed that many people have a lot of misconceptions about lawyers' lives, viewing them as rich and time-abundant people, but this is certainly not the case. Because the legal world does not sleep, attorneys can get calls any day, any time, leaving a generous amount of lawyers mentally and physically exhausted by the time they manage to find any downtime with romantic partners. Lawyers have a tendency to let their work come home with them, mentally—running their minds even when they want to relax with loved ones. "As a lawyer, you're constantly thinking about angles to argue in cases and cases that just won't go away; it's extremely hard to just shut it off and go into to romantic or relax-mode," he said.
The longevity in any lawyers' relationships, in combination with their work demands and hours, seems to heavily rely on their partners' occupational demands. Sherman can speak about this circumstance in his current relationship with his girlfriend who works in retail sales. With a highly predictable schedule and a work load that ends when she leaves her job, Sherman's girlfriend leads a much less intense career life than he does, which has resulted in a clash within their relationship. This shows that a sense of resentment can ensue when one is busy and stressed and the other one is not. "There is definitely a restriction on your schedule in law. My girlfriend will say that attorneys have the worst schedules in the world," he said.
<<Ronda Muir, a former lawyer and consultant for law firms and lawyers, has devoted many years to the study of lawyers' personalities and psychology. According to Muir, "Lawyers have the highest rates in divorce, suicide, [and] substance abuse." She went on to say, "It has not been publicized much, but a number of state Bars are starting to set up lawyer assistance programs for lawyers with substance abuse, mental illness, and depression." Muir has done thorough psychological studies on lawyers, specifically with the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) to prove that most lawyers fall into the pattern of autonomy, which, if one does not proceed with caution, could be the gateway to unsuccessful relationships.
Seventy percent of Americans are extroverts, meaning that many people need communication with others to get energy. Introverts need to be alone to get energy. She even mentioned that studies have shown that law is the only profession in which pessimism affected business positively. "Even in law students, the higher the pessimism, the higher their grades are," she said. All in all, attorneys are typically more skeptical people; the average person scores 50 percent, but lawyers score 90 percent in that trait.
Dr. Karen Sherman, a 25-year relationship therapist and author of Marriage Magic: Find It, Keep It, Make It Last, thinks that attorneys, or anyone really, who may have trouble making relationships work can be taught by skill-based therapy rather than exploring and focusing on negative backgrounds and past memories. A couple can be taught how to communicate and speak the same language despite what personality types and scheduling issues may get in the way.
Having counseled and worked with many lawyers herself, Dr. Sherman is also in agreement with Muir's study that lawyers can be more head-based thinkers rather than heart-based thinkers. Speculating that people go into certain professions because of who they are as people, Dr. Sherman has found a direct correlation between lawyers and the tendency to always anticipate and seek out the negative in situations, as it can be bred into them during law school. "Lawyers are very good at being very intellectual and thinking things through. But they're not necessarily very good at being in touch with their feelings so they can have a lot of problems with relationships. That doesn't mean that they can't learn," she said.
Another thing that heavily contributes to relationship problems is the lack of attention given to a relationship because of hectic lawyer schedules. "Very often, they can forget about the relationship, and one of the worst problems in a relationship—forget about lawyers; in any relationship—is that people don't prioritize their relationships," she explained.
Although there are a myriad of worst possible scenarios in the scheme of things for lawyers' love lives, there are many techniques that can keep their love boats afloat.
"Use your technology to show you care—BlackBerrys, voice mails, emails. Send a message saying, 'I was thinking about you today.' It just lets the other person know that you care," she said. Lawyers with busy schedules do not have to put in a whole lot of time to keep their love lives healthy but they need to understand some of the "cold hard facts," as Dr. Sherman put it. "They've got to put in some time. The time does not have to be a huge amount; it's got to be quality."
Bob Lattas, a sole practitioner from Chicago, knows a thing a two about finding quality time for relationships in your busy schedule. After living and seeing the effects that lawyers' insane schedules can have on their happiness and relationships, he began to think twice. "During my second year of law school, I worked for a firm called Baker & McKenzie, and a lot of my friends who've stayed to work with that firm have since separated or divorced because of the demands," he said. "Now I have my own real estate practice, and we can typically only get work done when banks are open so my office hours are pretty much 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and my other work can be done on my own time."
"The demands to keep your private practice running are significant, pushing lawyers to sacrifice something—whether it's your family life, your health, your social life, or your practice itself," Lattas said.
Since Lattas began his own real estate practice, life has become a lot saner. "I have a fabulous fiancée, Angelica, who I actually met at a real estate closing." Now engaged to be married this May, Lattas is living the good life in law because he has taken control of his personal life by making career choices within law that suit him. "I work a lot of hours, but I still make time to be with her [his fiancé] everyday, all the time when I'm not working," he said.
So yes, the rumors are true. Lawyers can, potentially, have some rather dismal love lives, but it does not have to be that way. If young lawyers take the time to prioritize their personal and professional lives based on where they are at today, they can plan for a much brighter future. Finding a well-balanced life, in all aspects, will positively reflect in a lawyer's business and personal relationships, no matter what. Do not forget what matters to you most in this life. And always remember what Dr. Sherman said: "No one on their death bed has ever said, 'I wish I had closed another deal.'"
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