You know that I am a lawyer.
But what you probably do not know, unless you have read my bio, is that my husband also is a lawyer. He and I have practiced law separately and together over the last 40-plus years, and, at this particular time in our careers, we both have our offices in our home. Yes, in the same house. Fortunately, there is enough space.
That does not mean, however, that we always respect those spaces. It also does not mean that our worst lawyer selves do not rear their ugly heads from time to time in discussions (read that as arguments) about issues of our personal lives, our children, politics and, of course, money. It is because we are human, but it also is because we are uniquely able to take each other on. We are trained in the skill of advocacy and argument — which includes jumping on unfortunate word choices, finding the weakness in any position, distinguishing EVERYTHING, and relishing the victory. Human, yes. But a little werewolf-ish also.
As a couple, we have survived. This year we will celebrate 50 years of marriage, and we consider that a success by anyone’s measure. But, we have had to learn to identify the werewolf and send him or her packing back to the forest. Without that, there likely would have been a different result than a golden wedding anniversary.
The adversarial gene likely was dominant in both of us before law school or, as a recessive gene, it was teased out into dominance during law school. How else would we have prevailed during Moot Court? How else would we have survived the first years of private practice, and how else would we have advanced to partnerships in a profession that so highly regards being unpleasant in the eyes of others so much of the time?
But, over time, we have learned that strutting our adversarial and argumentative selves does not work well outside the law school and law practice settings. Specifically, it does not work between couples and in social settings. To the contrary, it can end marriages and significantly reduce social networks. So, we needed to learn to reign it in, and so do you.
We all need to understand how easy we can fall victim to becoming our training. We need to be aware that the sharp elbows we have developed in our negotiations and trial experiences can make us appear obnoxious and unpleasant to others. Disputing EVERYTHING may make us heroes to our clients, but it will make us pariahs to our families and friends.
And it can happen so easily. I remember as a young lawyer discovering two neighborhood boys building a fort in the woods on our land. I told them that they did not have our permission to build the fort, and I asked them to remove it. I explained to them that my husband and I could become responsible for harm that might befall visitors to the fort, but they were not persuaded. So, I chose to explain to twelve year olds the law of attractive nuisance, and, in return, I got an earful from the father of one of the boys. Did I really have to lawyer-up to kids, he asked? Instead of gaining cooperation on the basis of our relationship as neighbors, I had demonstrated what a jerk I was. Not my most shining moment.
Waxing into legalese and taking the argumentative and combative approach is generally not good for social interaction or personal relationships. And, for sure, it is not good for marriages.
So, learn to leave the lawyer at the office. Set different expectations for your professional behavior and your personal behavior. Especially if you want to be celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary some day!
Here’s an article to help you further understand the pitfalls of your inner adversary unleashed and how to avoid destructive behavior. Our well-honed argumentative responses run deep and have merit in our legal careers, but it is risky to let those responses seep into our personal lives.
Just because you are a lawyer is no excuse for acting like one all of the time. Your friends and family do not expect it, and most of them resent it. Especially those who are not lawyers.
And most of us realize that non-lawyers make some of the best friends.