Some Attorneys Are Partners in Life, Partners in Practice

Jan. 31, 2019, 9:55 AM

Supreme Court advocate Lisa Blatt recently announced she’d join her husband, David, at Williams & Connolly in Washington. Add another couple to a small known group of high-profile attorneys who are married and practice at the same firm.

Blatt said she was leaving Arnold & Porter and returning to head the Supreme Court and appellate practice at Williams & Connolly, where she had worked earlier in her career. Her husband—they met when she first joined the firm in 1990—is a partner specializing in litigation, product liability and commercial matters. Blatt declined to discuss her move further.

Blatt’s move comes as Jonathan Bach, former head of Cooley’s New York office, decamped to join a litigation boutique co-founded a decade ago by his wife, Alexandra Shapiro. The firm is now Shapiro Arato Bach. Last year, Philippe Selendy and his wife, Jennifer, and other colleagues left Quinn Emanuel to found a new litigation boutique, Selendy & Gay.

Other couples also work together in well-known law firms, including Martin and Jane Raskin, former federal prosecutors who specialize in white-collar defense. The spouses, whose firm Raskin & Raskin is located in Coral Gables, Fla., last year signed onto President Donald Trump’s legal team.

Bach and Shapiro both said they had talked on and off for years about working together.

“We’ve always had similar interests in the law and we’ve been able to kick around ideas when we’ve done things like draft amicus briefs together,” said Shapiro, who was a partner at Latham & Watkins prior to co-founding her firm with Cynthia Arato in 2009.

Lawyer & Lawyer

The number of lawyer couples who work at the same firm is hard to pinpoint because there is no formal tally, and many women practice under their own last names. But those who practice with their spouses say there are definite upsides—and a few challenges, too.

Generally, a lawyer is likely to marry another lawyer, at least according to a 2016 Bloomberg study of census bureau data.

The data showed that high-earning women, like lawyers and doctors, gravitated toward their economic equals, who were often also professionals.

Lisa Kolbialka practices with her husband, Paul Andre, at Kramer Levin’s Silicon Valley office. They established their IP litigation practice more than 20 years ago, and have practiced together at several firms.

“We definitely do not always agree,” she said. But there are advantages.

“When we’re sitting at the counsel’s table together during a trial, I can almost read my husband’s mind and anticipate the next legal move,” she said.

Not Encouraged

Kolbialka also said there are reasons, too, why spouses don’t work together.

“Law firms don’t encourage it. Questions of fairness over assigning and taking credit can come up, and the work is very intense and expectations are very high,” she said. In past years, lawyer spouses often split the responsibilities of work and family and women lawyers had very different career paths than men.”

Lawrence J. Fox, who teaches legal ethics at Yale Law School, also said firms can have anti-nepotism rules.

“That was meant to avoid embarrassing situations, for example, where somebody’s spouse could be rejected for employment,” said Fox.

Fox said conflicts of interest can play a role, but are more likely for couples at different firms than at the same firm. He also noted that one part of a couple might bristle over hardball tactics used by a spouse’s firm to further a case.

Success Stories

Still, there are success stories.

Bach and Shapiro’s 10-lawyer firm has racked up victories in insider trading cases, winning the reversal, for example, last November of the insider trading conviction of investment banker Sean Stewart.

Bach, who will be bringing some clients with him and collaborating with Cooley lawyers on others, has represented clients such as Lumber Liquidators in a securities class action and consumer class action.

As to who is the boss, Bach said: “I was in management for four years at my last job. I’m happy to focus on craft and practice, and I defer to the founders.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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