A Full-Time Partnership – Husband and Wife Share Hartford Law Practice, Lives

The Hartford Courant
Wednesday, December 2, 1987
By Tracy Gordon, Courant Staff Writer

When Mark and Ileen Swerdloff come home from work, they don't have to complain to each other about a tough day – they already know how the day went.

The Swerdloffs, both lawyers, share an office and a caseload in Hartford. They are one of only a few couples in the state who practice together in the same law offices, said Mary Elizabeth St. Clair of the Connecticut Bar Association.

After his law career got off to a rocky beginning, Mark Swerdloff left another law firm in 1979 with no clients and no office. Since then, the West Hartford residents have worked to set up a lucrative practice of both criminal and civil law.

Mark Swerdloff said he disliked having a boss and decided to make it on his own. Ileen Swerdloff joined the office in 1981, after their only child, Jonathan, now 12, was old enough to go to school. Their office, at 101 Oak St. in Hartford, is much like any other law office, with a library full of legal books and credentials framed on the wall. But the Swerdloffs' office also has an atmosphere of home, complete with the family's dog.

Chutney, an imposing bull mastiff, goes to work with the couple every day. She sits near the front of the office and watches people enter. Not only is the dog good company, but also she is a disincentive to anyone looking to cause trouble, Mark Swerdloff said.

"It's some place between an insane asylum and a mom-and-pop shop," Mark Swerdloff said, grinning. "It's 80 percent personality."

St. Clair said she checked with other county bar associations in the state and found only two or three other married couples working in the same law offices and practicing together. But, she said, there is no computer data on married couples who are lawyers, so there may be others.

The Swerdloffs wake up every morning between 6 and 6:30, make sure Jonathan gets on the school bus and drive separately to their office.

Once in the office, phones ring constantly with calls from worried clients. The Swerdloffs often have to juggle their schedules to appear in several different court jurisdictions in the same day. Most, but not all, of their clients' cases are in courts in Hartford, Manchester and Vernon.

When they walk into the courtroom together, Mark Swerdloff said, judges and other lawyers sometimes joke about the "family affair."

Mark Swerdloff said some opposing lawyers call him and say," Do you know what your wife just did?"

"Usually I agree with her," Mark Swerdloff said, "So I finally just started saying "That's terrible. I'm going to divorce her."

The Swerdloffs, both 42, are together almost everyday, but say they do not tire of each other. "We are much closer than a lot of people," Ileen Swerdloff said during an interview at their home.

After graduating from the University of Buffalo, Mark and Ileen Swerdloff, married on Christmas Eve 1967. At the time, they did not contemplate going to work together in pin-stripe suits and standing before judges. Ileen Swerdloff had a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Mark Swerdloff had one in English.

They moved to Connecticut, where he was coordinator of the Manchester Drug Advisory Center and she taught Spanish at Manchester High School.

At 26, Mark Swerdloff decided to enroll at the University of Connecticut Law School. It was 1971 and "I was too old for medical school," he said.

The next year, Ileen Swerdloff decided to become a paralegal. "I was sitting around getting fat and miserable," she said. Later, she applied to law school.

Her first year of law school, however, was interrupted by the birth of Jonathan, and she eventually graduated in 1978 by taking evening classes.

The Swerdloffs' caseload includes criminal as well as divorce and other civil cases.

"We're now almost too busy," Ileen Swerdloff said. "We do drudge work that other, bigger firms passed on."

The Swerdloffs' personalities are dissimilar. Mark Swerdloff is soft-spoken and does not like to talk about his feelings. Ileen Swerdloff is talkative and speaks openly about her feelings. She loves details, he looks at the big picture, each said of the other.

They use their differences to help create a smooth-working office, in which she is the office manager and he tries the criminal cases.

"Mark is the tryer of cases. I go all the way to picking the jury," Ileen Swerdloff said. But she will soon try her first criminal case, "I'm ready now," she said.

Ileen Swerdloff said it took a while for male clients to take her seriously.

"I have had the additional burden of being a woman. In the last year, I have been fighting the battle and winning it," she said.

A poster saying "Joan of Arc Saved France" hangs near her desk. "After they see me, they look at the Joan of Arc poster," she said.