My (a Lawyer’s) Birthday Wish for My Wife

This blog post might be somewhat uncomfortable for some (lawyer) readers.  It is a bit uncomfortable for me.  Today is my wife Andrea’s birthday. This newsletter is a birthday wish for her and, in part, a confession.  Ask my wife.  It is not easy being married to a lawyer.

One of my Emory Law School professors defined lawyering as “knowing what differences make a difference.”   This fits the bill, in my experience, as a most accurate definition of lawyering. But, as many non-lawyer family members are well aware, this “knowing what makes a difference” can make lawyers, as a group, very difficult personalities.  Many of us, also, don’t always remove our lawyer hats when we are out of the office.  Again, just ask my wife.

So this post (and confession) is for Andrea, with all my best wishes for many more birthdays to come. And also this post is for us lawyers. Taking a moment to ponder how our lawyer personas affect our spouses and other family members might be fruitful.  This pondering might be also one of those important differences that makes a difference.

In putting this post together I spent some time with Google looking at dozens of comments and discussions about lawyers’ personality traits and marriage.  The following excerpt jumped out at me as particularly relevant (and hopefully instructive):

This is from a blog at, written by Dr. Fiona Travis, a clinical psychologist married to a lawyer:

Individual lawyers may not have all the characteristics, but – when they’re honest – they will recognize that they possess such marriage-straining attributes as ambition, narcissism, skepticism, defensiveness, perfection-ism and the need to be in control. Furthermore, on personality tests, most lawyers score high on the “thinking” scales and low on the “feeling” scales. And it’s not something that happens only after a lawyer passes the bar. It goes all the way back to law school, where one learns to argue, cross examine, stonewall, delay, outwit, and avoid showing weakness to opposing counsel.

My birthday wish today brings also back the memory of the only Shakespeare sonnet that I had any interest in memorizing in my early college days. Unbeknownst to me at that time, it apparently had “lawyer” handwriting all over the wall:

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Sonnet 23, William Shakespeare

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