Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Law and Marriage: For Better or Worse

Law and MarriageGoing into practice with your best friend is probably a bad idea.

But practicing with your spouse may work out just fine.

That’s not exactly what the NCBA’s law practice guru says in this blogpost. But the point he makes – that a law partnership requires a level of commitment and sharing that goes far beyond BFF status – is well taken.

“Law firm partnerships are more like marriages than friendships,” writes Erik Mazzone on the NCBA blog L3: Long Leaf law. “You’ve got to be able to have hard conversations and resolve conflict that will test the strength of a partnership far more severely than most friendships will have to endure. When partnerships break, it can be brutal. What often feels like a dispassionate business decision to the departing partner, feels more like a betrayal to those staying behind. The similarities to going through a divorce are striking.”

As director of the NCBA Center for Practice Management, Erik works with lawyers every day on issues ranging from technology to time billing. One common scenario: best pals who want to open a law office together. On the surface it sounds like a great idea. After all, they already know each other. They’re familiar with each other’s quirks. They like the same restaurants and watch the same shows on Netflix.

But none of that will guarantee a happy union. In fact, the personal connections might get in the way of making hard decisions.

Four Building Blocks for Success

  1. Build on shared values. “It’s not important what the core values are, but partners who drastically different values will likely produce endless conflict,” Mazzone writes.
  2. Talk about money. It’s not always fun or easy, but it has to be done. Partners who aren’t on the same page financially are doomed to a rocky relationship. “A lot of new partnerships try to circumvent this difficult conversation by deciding that they will split all revenues and expenses equally,” writes Mazzone. “It’s a nice idea. I tried it myself for a short but memorably disastrous period of my career. Almost inevitably, one person feels like they are working harder than the other and the equal division ideal breaks…. [W]hatever your partnership decides to do about money, you need to be able to discuss it in a productive, open way. And you should do so regularly.”
  3. Resolve conflict sustainably. ‘Like resolving conflict with your significant other, you need to be able to talk with your partners when you disagree – and that conversation has to leave everyone feeling respected and heard.  This is hard, especially in the midst of long, stressful days.  Powder kegs of old resentments never properly put to bed can explode at inopportune times and over inconsequential issues, and the results do nothing but hurt a firm’s productivity.”
  4. Know when and why to call it quits. A pivotal point in all relationships is knowing when to shake hands and part amicably. But when do you know it’s over? Mazzone offers this benchmark: if you’re having trouble with the above three items and aren’t making progress constructively within the union, perhaps it’s time to consider other options. “There are times when the right move for everybody involved is to split up, he writes. “It’s not the end of the world. It feels pretty bad at the time, particularly for the partners remaining behind, but ultimately everyone will benefit from getting into a work situation that is a better fit.”

What is your experience? What items would you add to the list? Drop us a line



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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