Wedded to the client

Never marry a solicitor unless you're prepared for a lonely life and a paltry divorce settlement

There was a moment, towards the end of the TV series Murder One when the lawyer hero, Ted Hoffman, just before the producers tarnished his image, tells the wife to whom he has just surrendered in divorce settlement negotiations, "All I ever wanted was to make you happy ... I thought all I had to do was work hard, be successful and that would make me a good husband."

In that moment, Ted Hoffman spoke for thousands of lawyers. Almost every solicitor I know who is a partner in a small firm - and many of those who have become, or aspire to be, partners in larger firms - has at least one broken marriage behind them.

Many solicitors marry other solicitors, secretaries or barristers. The long hours often mean that these are the only prospective partners they meet. The stresses of the job mean they spend little time together, even after marriage.

And the problems are exaggerated where the partner does not understand.

I regularly hear stories of solicitors asking their secretaries to fix a dinner date with a wife, to post her a birthday card, to find her a present, of days of sending messages to each other by fax or leaving them on the answerphone at home or in the partner's office voicemail.

It's a shame that Ted Hoffman was seen agreeing to $500,000-a-year maintenance payment, the house and a pounds 100,000 of stock. This suggests to lay viewers that lawyers in small firms have this sort of money to spend. Yet recent figures show that a significant proportion of partners in small UK firms - firms the size of Hoffman's - earn less than pounds 10,000.

Money problems, overwork and a simple desire to serve clients to the exclusion of self-interest, and family needs, are the chief causes of many marriage breakdowns among solicitors.

Ted Hoffman spoke for far more than his scriptwriters could ever have known. He spoke what none of us would ever think of telling our spouses. Maybe some of them heard and will understand.

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