Married Attorneys Have The Law, and Love, On Their Sides
Sunday, September 30, 2001
By Korky Vann, Special to the Courant
Swerdloff & Swerdloff is a law firm that gives the word "partnership" a whole new meaning.
Attorneys Ileen and Mark Swerdloff are "wedded personally & professionally," as it says in their Yellow Pages ad - - and that's no legalese. The couple, who have been married for 34 years and practicing law together for 23, are inseparable best friends both in and out of the office.
"We do everything together, literally," says Ileen Swerdloff. "We work together, we live together, we eat three meals a day together, we travel together and we spend just about all our time together. We even laugh at each other's jokes. Throughout our entire marriage, we've only been apart a few times. When you see one of us, the other is usually right behind."
You'd think that a couple that has spent their life raising togetherness to an art form would have begun their relationship with a fairy tale romance. But it didn't start out that way. When the couple, both sophomores at the University of Buffalo, met in 1965, no sparks flew.
"It was not even close to love at first sight," says Ileen Swerdloff. "I had designs on someone else and was using Mark to get to him. When that didn't work, Mark and I ended up together by default. Our relationship grew very slowly. In fact, it almost didn't happen at all."
Eventually though, they began dating steadily, but with no plans for the future-until senior year, when Ileen used an ultimatum.
"In those days, if a girl didn't have a ring by graduation, she'd failed," says Ileen. "And I didn't have a ring. So I announced that if Mark didn't propose, I was heading for South America. Mark asked for some time to think about it. I said, 'Sure, take 15 minutes.' He left the room, came back and said 'OK, let's get married.' It was less than romantic."
"I was looking for the loophole," admits Mark. "I didn't want to commit, but in the end, I couldn't let her go." Friends, who did not see this as a match made in heaven, were horrified. Mark, they noted, was quiet, while Ileen was a talker. Mark was messy; Ileen neat. Mark liked spicy food; Ileen loved sweets.
"Instead of saying congratulations, people said, 'You two are so ill-suited for each other, this will never work," says Ileen.
For a while, it looked as if friends were right. The couple married in 1967 and had a rough first year together. They moved to the Hartford area in 1968, "to try to put the pieces back together." After a series of jobs, Mark decided to go to law school. A few years later, with Mark's encouragement, Ileen entered law school as well.
Just after Ileen's first-year finals, their son Jonathan was born. At a time when gender roles were still strictly defined, the young couple juggled school and part-time jobs and shared child care equally. Though money was short and pressures were huge, the relationship grew stronger.
"There were days we couldn't stand each other, but we hung in," says Ileen.
Ileen graduated when Jonathan was two. By then, Mark had opened his own office.
"Mark's firm didn't approve of a lawyer who had family obligations, so he left and took a space of his own, furnished with castoffs," says Ileen. "After I passed the bar, I went in to help out. But it still wasn't Swerdloff & Swerdloff. It was Mark Swerdloff and Ileen has a desk."
Over the years, that gradually changed, as the pair learned to work to each other's strengths. Ileen negotiated, Mark litigated. The practice became a real mom and pop operation, and the pair became a team on the letterhead and in the courtroom, specializing in family law.
Says Ileen, "We started out with 'yours' and 'mine' and evolved into 'ours.'"
These days, Jonathan is 26 and a lawyer himself. His proud parents, both 56, continue to share everything, including their small offices in West Hartford, a one- bedroom home in Farmington, hobbies and a passion for trips to exotic locations around the world. Friends and acquaintances are so used to seeing the two together, the couple jokes they should send out notices on those rare occasions they've got separate plans.
"The other day it happened that we had lunch in town at the same restaurant, but at different tables," says Mark. "Ileen was meeting with a client inside, and I was outside with Jonathan and we left at different times. Later that afternoon, we were taking a walk together, and the bus boy came running out to tell us how relieved he was to see us together. It's so unusual to see us apart, he thought there was something wrong."