Practicing law as a family affair; parents and children can make winning legal teams.
Editors' Note: Managing people is one of the trickiest aspects of running any business, including a law office Should you complicate the problem by inviting a son or daughter to practice with you? If you are a young attorney starting out, should you accept an offer to join a parent's firm? Can family harmony coexist with the gritty work of trial law?
In these essays, two parent-child legal teams tell how they make working together work They confirm what most people would probably guess: The arrangement is sometimes troublesome and usually sensitive, but almost always rewarding.
The Saladino story
Burden of proof
People often ask me, "What's it like working with your father?" For brevity's sake, I always answer something like, "It's great," "It's going pretty well," or "I like it." These are all true statements. But, as always, the truth is not that simple.
Let me offer just a little background information to set the scene. I am the oldest of three kids and my parents' only daughter. I guess people would say I am a "Daddy's girl" and always have been. But then I grew up and became not only Daddy's girl but also Daddy's employee. That's when the fun--and the difficulty--really began.
As I went through law school, I thought, "Law is not that exciting, and I am only going to practice if I can practice with my dad." After I passed the bar two and a half years ago, I packed up and headed west from Cincinnati to Paducah, Kentucky, where my father has practiced for more than 20 years.
At first, working with Dad seemed great. His office is right across the hall from mine, so from the beginning I could just pop in on him to ask questions. I was soon pestering him with questions at night, when we went out to dinner, while we were driving in the car, or anywhere else he could not escape.
This turned out to be a mistake. I did want the answers to my questions, and I got them, but I think I drove Dad crazy at times. Worse than that, we talked about nothing else--law, law, law. It was easy to forget that we used to be just an ordinary father and daughter who talked about things other than work.
I tried hard to convince my father that I actually went to class and that his law school tuition money was not spent at the local pub. After all, I wanted to make him proud. This is where it got sticky. I wanted to do everything just right because (1) I'm the boss's daughter, and (2) the boss is my father.
Sounds the same, but these are really two distinct concepts.
Being the boss's daughter means proving that you are there to work and that you deserve the authority that goes with your job. In my case, many of the same people who helped me type and mail my law school application suddenly were required to do what I, the firm's new lawyer, asked of them. (Of course, we all know that's not exactly how it works. I still find myself asking these people what I should do next.)
This new arrangement wasn't the easiest thing for some members of Dad's law office staff to accept, and I received my fair share of awkward looks from some of the veteran employees. Judging from the squint of their eyes, I could tell they were thinking, "Does she know what she's doing?" or "Does she really want to do that?"
Gaining respect at work hasn't been easy. I am driven by constant pressure to stay on top of everything so that I can't be accused of being lazy or just skating by because of nepotism.
What about missing work? I'm not a workaholic, but I do feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if I take time off. I worry that people will say, "Well, she's the boss's daughter. She can do whatever she wants." This is the last thing I want people to think, and I try hard to overcome that impression. I am sure this will always be somewhat of a battle, even if it is only in my head.
I've concluded that the most difficult part of being the boss's daughter and having a boss who is your father is simply the need to prove yourself to everyone.
People often say, "You've got it made, working for your dad." Obviously, these people have never worked for a family member. I'm here to tell you, it's tough. It's great, but it's tough. Working for my father means learning to take things in stride. There is no such thing as sugar coating. My dad tells me how it is, even when I don's ask.
Working for my father also means proving that the little girl who once was too shy to order her own ice cream at Dairy Queen is capable of handling a tough deposition or a contentious hearing. This, of course, was hard at the beginning. I knew it was time to show Dad what I learned on his penny, but privately I was thinking, "Dad needs to see about a refund. I didn't learn that much."
From the first day at the office, Dad was ready for me to get to work, ready for me to do what I thought should be done on the cases I was assigned to handle. I was horrified. How was I supposed to know? I second-guessed myself on almost everything and desperately wanted his approval on everything else.
As time went on and Dad answered more and more of my questions, I became more confident in my work. I'm learning to do the best I can with what I've got, and I try to give Dad a break on some things. Sometimes now I ask a tough question to which even my brilliant father does not know the answer. Boy, does that make me feel good!
Luckily, I have a great dad who is patient with me and wants me to succeed, so he is always willing to lend his helping hand (although not always thrilled about it).
I know that no matter how many questions I ask, I will never know all the answers in the practice of law. I do know that being both Daddy's little girl and his employee is tricky, but it's an experience I would recommend to anyone.
Kristi Saladino is an associate in the Saladino Law Firm in Paducah, Kentucky.
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|Date:||Mar 1, 1997|
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