The Swerdloffs: Partners in Law and in Life
The Farmington Valley Post
By Shereen F. Edelson
The perfect piece of furniture for Attorneys Ileen and Mark Swerdloff is a "partners' desk," one of those massive flat-tops that has a kneehole and drawers on each side to accommodate two people working at the same time. In this age of rampant divorce, fragmented families, and philandering presidents, the Swerdloffs are an anomaly. The husband and wife, who are Farmington residents and have their law office in West Hartford Center, spend almost every moment of their lives together.
They wake up at the same time, exercise together, eat breakfast, and read the newspaper together. They take separate cars to work but share the same law practice, the same secretary, and the same cases. Every day they eat lunch together, having the same meal in the same restaurant. They drink the same brand of bottled water. Their names appear one right after the other in the most recent edition of Who's Who in American Lawyers.
"The truth is we're just half people," says Mark, who has been married to Ileen for 31 years. "We're a snug fit; we fill in each other's gaps," Ileen adds. The sameness of their routine "takes some of the stress out of our lives." The couple also shares a son, 23-year old son Jonathan, a law student in New York City.
Mark and Ileen met as sophomores at The University of Buffalo. They married in 1967 and moved to Connecticut in 1968. Between 1972 and 1978, they both managed to attend and graduate law school, pass the bar exam, start a family, and practice law.
"In the beginning, we used to wake up in the middle of the night, scared to death about how we were going to pay our bills. That's the hard part," says Ileen. "We persevered, probably because we were too young and dumb to know any better. A lot of good things happened to us, I think really based on hard work and luck. Nobody gave us anything. We're not from around here; we're not local so we had to establish contacts and work up a network. The one thing that we always provided to everybody is a united front. We always present ourselves as a team. We try to tell clients at the very beginning that it's a 'twofer.'
The Swerdloffs are among the few attorneys who still conduct a general practice of law. "When you're in a small, private practice like this, whatever calls," says Ileen. They handle divorces, personal injury lawsuits, motor vehicle cases, criminal law, and small business law. Ileen manages the day-to-day affairs of running the firm. Mark enjoys trying cases before juries.
"There's some real highs. Waiting for juries is always a high," says Mark who, two years ago, won a 12-million dollar verdict for a woman sexually abused as a child. "Mark has an excellent analytical mind," says Ileen and "really knows the laws of evidence." For Ileen, the thrill is "walking into a room filled with other professionals and being able to persuade them that my position is the most tenable position."
They thrive on the hectic pace of their professional lives. "It's 24 hours; it's all the time. We never leave it. At cocktails, we don't leave it; when we're out with friends; when we're out with our kid, it never leaves us. That's the part that makes it the hardest; it never leaves. We take it with us everywhere."
Being their own bosses allows the Swerdloffs some flexibility in their schedules. Mark's hobby is photography and Ileen likes to knit. They both love to travel and have sojourned in Morocco, the Galapagos Islands, New Guinea, India, Nepal, and Africa. Photographs of New Guinea natives adorn Mark's office walls.
Although they do so much together, the Swerdloffs do have their differences and disagreements. "We have completely different ways of approaching everything," says Ileen. "I can just keep talking for another three and a half hours and he will only correct me when he gets completely bored and gets up and walks out of here."
So what is the key to their compatibility? "That's my secret," says Ileen, who uses her marriage as an example when counseling divorce clients. She jokes about someday writing a book about marriage. "Somewhere along the way, I think we came to realize that if we were going to function effectively, then we have to cooperate with each other." "We just need to accommodate each other's styles; that's all," says Mark.
"We always try to accommodate the other and if there is a habit that the other can't stand, we try to change it," adds Ileen.
The couple admits to some pretty heated disagreements at times but as Mark describes it, "It rains for a while and then it's over," and they're back to eating, working, traveling, and arguing together.
"We call it a positive co-dependency," says Ileen. "I always have someone to have fun with, to share a laugh with. We are an island, a very small island."
In this crazy world, they certainly are.