Partner Track (Why I went to work with my wife)

February in the Cleveland airport, watching for updates of my flight home to Chicago. Finally canceled. It’s the third return flight in as many trips that has been canceled or delayed. Catching up with my wife on the way to the hotel I learn our son has a fever and was quarantined from daycare. My wife had to reschedule a handful of meetings and lost a busy day at her fledgling law firm. Maybe you’ve been there before: lots of moving parts but none of them in sync. Lots to do but nothing getting done. Busy, but no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. The time had come to be honest with ourselves.

Fast forward a year or so and I’m sitting in my home office in Chicago. I traded a United Club membership for the local Chamber of Commerce. In December I stepped off a healthcare business development track to join my wife’s growing law practice and put my experience and heretofore dormant JD degree to different use. I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined Farr & Farr to grow the health law and corporate law practices.

The decision was equal parts professional and personal. Feelings that I was pursuing goals that would never deliver what I was looking for started to pop up after the birth of our son and got more intense after our daughter was born two years later. My wife had started her firm in 2015, but growth was constrained by her having to manage nearly everything at home, including those all-too-frequent daycare sick days.

That’s when the honest reflection and self-assessment started. I am fortunate to have a spouse who is a true partner (not just in business!), and we began to have deeper conversations about what we want out of our careers and how best to square that with our personal lives. Turns out that we both want the same things out of work: intellectual challenge, the privilege of counseling and advising others, a balance of time spent with other people vs. time spent alone, autonomy and decision rights on key issues, a close connection between our efforts and their results, and the ability to grow a business and eventually build a team that works with us. Each of us was hitting a few of those factors alone, but on our current paths we knew we would not fulfill them all.

On the personal side, we both prioritize time spent together and with our kids. We both have interests outside of work that we want to spend time on. We both want to be involved in decisions and activities at home. Meshing professional and personal goals is daunting, but the more digging we did the more convinced we became that growing our firm together could accomplish almost everything we discussed.

This reflection and self-assessment made the next steps possible, and exciting.

We put together a business plan (and were realistic about the challenges we faced), discussed timing of key events (like leaving my job and when to re-launch as Farr & Farr), figured out a lot of administrative details (fun times with health insurance), and I focused my attention on passing the Illinois bar exam (lots of flashbacks to my first year of law school). During the months leading up to the bar exam I also took the opportunity to care for our kids two days a week (always good to conserve cash during ramp up, but they’ll go back to full-time daycare soon). The time spent with them on “Dad Days” has been an ongoing reminder that we made the right decision. It provided a glimpse of what my mom, who stayed at home and raised five children, must have experienced in terms of fulfillment and challenge. It also revealed some of the things my dad, who worked long hours as a hospital administrator, missed when his kids were young. Their division of labor worked well for them and still works for a lot of people today. My wife and I are not among that group, but we found our way. Equal partners at work, equal partners at home.

Our path has provided experiences our clients can identify with and benefit from. We understand the difficulty in planning a new business, making a significant professional change, evaluating an investment opportunity, and negotiating the right course when all your planning does not produce the expected outcome.

A decision on whether to pursue any significant undertaking will only be as good as the process used to reach it. We build our process around thoughtful, efficient counsel, and we’re excited to help our clients identify, set and accomplish their own goals.

Dave Farr is Partner at Farr & Farr in Chicago, where he practices health and corporate law.