January 17, 2020

Who needs law school? Just marry a lawyer!

First, let me say that by the time I announced to my family that I was actually getting married, at the already questionable child-bearing age of 34, they would have been
ecstatic had I said I was marrying a Martian.

The fact that Larry was a lawyer, on the partner track at a reputable Los Angeles law firm, was a bonus. The fact that he was a Jewish lawyer, strongly identified as a Member of the Tribe and actively engaged in the community, was beyond their wildest hopes.

But, hey, what do you think happens when you meet your future spouse at a Jewish Federation-sponsored gala singles dance at Hillcrest Country Club?

I’ll tell you.

You have three tables or more of lawyers at your wedding. At ours, even the rabbi who performed the ceremony, Ben Zion Bergman, was a licensed lawyer.
And, after almost 24 years of marriage, here’s what else happens.

I can tell you that there’s no contract that can’t be broken, that the law is not always just and that gift certificates and gift cards in California cannot expire (see California Code § 1749.45 — 1794.6).

I can also tell you about Regulation Z (the federal Truth in Lending law), about the legal doctrine of estoppel and about movie-slate financing for hedge funds investing in films (well, maybe I’m reaching here).

In short, I’m pretty much a practicing lawyer myself.

Sure, I sat for the Law School Admission Test back in 1980 and even progressed as far as requesting applications from several Southern California law schools. But I didn’t need to endure the rigors of a constitutional law class to learn about separation of church and state as outlined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

And I didn’t need to spend three months holed up with a California Bar Exam review tutorial and another three months nervously awaiting the Bar Exam results before I could evict a tenant who wasn’t paying rent or sue a savings and loan in Small Claims Court for a consumer fraud violation.

Nope, I just needed to marry Larry.

Now I can look up any law I need on www.findlaw.com and then check my legal interpretation with my resident expert. And here’s the best part: no hourly rate to pay. There’s only the small price of feigning interest when, after answering my question, he goes didactic on me, printing out a compendium of relevant case summaries that he expects me to enthusiastically read.

But in our litigation-driven society, having a bona fide lawyer on “’til-death-do-us-part” retainer can be a handy asset. Larry can expertly negotiate any sale, be it house, car or mortgage refinance; he can read and understand the small print on any document (without glasses, no less), and he can make all investment and insurance decisions.

But what’s the downside? Surely, there’s a reason for all those lawyer jokes.
In other words, what’s it like — day after day, year after year — trying to have discussions with someone who is trained and gets paid for poking holes in any argument? Who reads articles word by painstaking word with one hand guiding a ruler underneath each line and the other hand holding a red pen? And who seamlessly inserts phrases such as nunc pro tunc and res ipsa loquitor into what passes for normal conversation?

That’s the key phrase: normal conversation. Can you just chitchat over morning coffee with someone who is reputedly aggressive, analytic and always watching the clock? With someone who values objectivity and reason over emotion and intuition? Who listens carefully to a complicated and long-deliberated observation and then matter of factly responds, “That makes no sense.”

“What makes no sense?” I ask.

“Look, why would someone do that?” he invariably says, pointing out that he’s trained to ferret out the motivation behind any action.

“So,” I answer, using my own keen rebuttal skills, “who cares.” After all, just because his clients pay large sums of money for his advice and then actually follow it, I’m not obligated to do the same.

And that’s the secret. Different strokes. While Larry resorts to what I lovingly call his “lawyer tricks,” relentlessly bombarding me with logical arguments and making normal marital melees an impossibility, I rely on irrationality. And that makes perfect sense. After all, Larry is a JD (juris doctor) and I’m an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling and judgmental person, based on the Myers-Briggs typology test).

But opposites attract. They even complement each other. And I have to say that it’s been my left-brained, logical and level-headed husband who has ethically enlightened me.

It’s Larry, contrary to the cutthroat and merciless legal stereotype, who has taught me about the sanctity of human life, the cruelty of sarcasm and ridicule, the power of kindness, the virtue of patience and the paramount importance of family.

It’s also Larry who’s taught me that journalists need their spouses’ permission to quote them in print (I learned that one the hard way) and that, yes, spouses can sue spouses (so far, this has not been necessary).

And it’s Larry who has already carefully vetted this column and, in accordance with the Communication Act’s equal opportunity provision, is probably already drafting his response. It will be titled. “I Married a Journalist.”

Look for it in your local legal newspaper.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino, where lawyer-marriages are legal.