All in the Family – Following in the Family Footsteps
Part 1, Family Practice Corner
Sometime in late June, I went to the bank to make a deposit. The banker, Kate, has known me since I was an intern in Tim Hyden’s office, which was some years ago. Kate knew that my son, Garrett, was born in early December of last year. In the course of conversation, she mentioned, “Maybe your son will be a lawyer someday.” Without thinking, I blurted, “Over my dead body!” My response gave rise to a curiosity; why did I have such a strong, immediate, and negative gut reaction? As a new mom, how would I feel if my little guy decided he want to be a lawyer? How would I feel if he wanted to be a family lawyer like mom? Would I prefer he avoid the practice of law?
Family attorneys are often exposed to the nastier side of the law, as well as the profession. This experience certainly impacted my reaction at the bank, and it ignited my curiosity about how attorney parents feel when their “little ones” enter this roller-coaster profession. So I decided to ask them.
This article is the first of several articles with interviews of parent/child(ren) “teams”. This article features an interview with Family Law Father/Daugther George “Skip” Pfeiffer and Laura Pfeiffer.
George and Laura Pfeiffer
George and Laura Pfeiffer practice family law at Pfeiffer Law in Walnut Creek.
LJM: Laura, did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?
LP: I don’t think I did, but everyone else always knew it. When I finally went to law school everyone was like, we knew you would do that since you were a kid.
LJM: So it was your own unilateral decision?
LP: One hundred percent.
GP: As opposed to saying I had any influence over it?
LJM: Right, as opposed to thinking, ‘Well my dad is a lawyer, and then I could work for my dad’ — that thought process.
LP: I sort of went to law school in part because I didn’t want to get a ‘real job.’ I took time off between college and law school and lived in various ski towns. I knew that I needed to move on to something different, but was not sure what I wanted to do. I happened to do well on the LSATs, got into some good schools, and was offered a partial scholarship, so I figured, why not? I definitely talked to my dad prior to that, and my dad has always had such a supportive position. He has always encouraged us (all 5 kids) to do whatever we want to do as long as we do it well. If that’s being a ski instructor in Colorado, then be a ski instructor. If it’s being an attorney, then go for it.
LJM: Skip, what were your initial thoughts when she told you she was going to go to law school?
LJM: You didn’t have any reservations about the kind of career she was entering, or the adversarial nature of this profession?
GP: No. She’s good. She has great verbal skills. She’s bright, a perfect fit for law.
LP: And he likes what he does.
LJM: When you, Skip were looking at the course of the stress of law school, the agony of the Bar, and then the anticipatory Bar limbo period, do you remember that from when you went though it?
GP: Oh hell yeah, but I had a lot more confidence in her than I had then.
LP: In fact he had some very helpful insight for me when I went to law school. One of the first things Skip told me was to study for the final exam every semester. Don’t worry about how stupid you sound in class. So I took advantage. That piece of information alone, they should tell all law students. I didn’t care about the reading for each day. I just went through outlines and studied for the final exam all along because of that little piece of advice.
LJM: When you, Laura, decided to go to law school, did it ever occur to you that you may start working for your dad someday?
LP: No, in fact when I was in law school even I said I am never going to be a lawyer. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would do that. And then I just happened to get a job at a D.A.’s Office, and I really liked that, and I ended up practicing law. Then through life circumstances, I ended up working for my dad. But no, I never thought I would work for my dad, or in family law.
LJM: When Laura said she was going to go to law school, did it occur to you that she may end up working for you some day?
GP: Not really.
LJM: Did you want her to work for you?
LP: (laughing) Not really!
GP: Um, yeah, it would be great if all of the kids could work for me. I would like somebody else to go to law school but it is a little too late for that.
LJM: Laura, after you left the D.A.’s office, and went to your dad about leaving, was it one of those things where you said, “I need to come and work for you”?
LP: I left the D.A.’s office to go to Washington, then I came back to California, not to work at the D.A.’s office. The initial idea was to practice law in Washington, so I took the Bar up there. At the time I was at the D.A.’s office, it was during the budget crisis, and on a regular basis they would say they were going to hand out pink slips and they were doing this as a political play to get the community to say that the D.A.’s office needed funding, but the reality was I had no job security, and to remain where I was just didn’t make since to me. I became tired of the limbo and I turned in my notice. I did a few things, and then I called my dad up and said “Hey, why don’t we play law together?” And I started working for him.
GP: Well since she had the law background, she could do research and stuff.
LP: Based on the fact that when I returned to California, I was working as a ski bum, making 5 cents an hour, if I worked three hours doing research a week, I would have ended up with the same income. So I asked him if I could just do three hours of research a week, and he’s like “No, but you can come and be an attorney for me.”
LJM: Skip, did it occur to you to ask Laura to work for you when she first started working as a lawyer?
GP: No, because I expected her to be at the D.A.’s office for a long time.
LJM: It seems like working with your dad was somewhat of an opportunity of circumstance, and you did not think initially that you could just go and work for your dad.
LP: No, but I am really glad that I did.
LJM: How is your relationship different with the office dynamics? I know it is a rather small office, just the two of you, Kelli Miles, your assistant/paralegal. And Kelli also works for Stanley (another attorney in the office), but do you have to deal with any office politics?
GP: I doubt it. Kelli is pretty open with us.
LP: Kelli started working for my dad about 10 years ago, so she is practically like family now.
LJM: How long have you been working for your dad now?
LP: Since March of 2010, so about 6 years now.
LJM: How has your relationship changed, if at all, by working with your dad?
LP: I don’t think it has.
GP: Not at all.
LP: We have always been pretty close, even since I was a kid.
LJM: Do you think that your working relationship has impacted your siblings at all?
GP: For the rest of them it doesn’t even register.
LJM: Exposing your daughter to the adversarial component of this business does not phase you at all? There is very little work/life balance unless you impose it upon yourself.
GP: Laura does a much better job with that than most people I know. There was one client that almost forced Laura out of the practice of law all together. The client was quite difficult and frankly quite rude to Laura and others. But I think now we have an unwritten rule that if you do not like the client you get rid of the client, or pass the client on to someone else. Laura can take care of herself.
LP: You can’t take this stuff home. I think he may have taught me to do it better than he does.
LJM: Perhaps your comfort with allowing your daughter to embark on this profession stems from the fact that you knew your daughter much better when she was in her 20s than I do my son, who is just 9 months old. Imaginably the inherent need to protect will wane as he grows up.
GP: I think at 9 months, I probably would not have thought “Yeah, I want to get her into this.” I am obviously older than I was when she was 9 months, and you will eventually have a different perspective on it. It depends on how he grows up. She was always very skilled at arguing, bright and logical, so this is a good job for her; a good outlet for her. I think she would be frustrated if she worked in a really happy place.
LJM: I have noticed that you call him “Dad” in the office. You don’t call him “George” or “Skip.” Obviously Skip is going to call you Laura…
LP: That’s not true. Sometimes he calls me “Lor Lor”. (laughing)
GP: I know some kid (attorneys) who call their(attorney) parents by their first name. I always thought that was kind of weird. I couldn’t have called my dad “Bobby,” even if I had worked with him.
LP: You would have called him “Sir.” Let’s be real.
LJM: Are you both able to leave work at work?
GP: We probably talk shop outside of the office, but I know that it bothers Laura’s husband, so we try and minimize that.
LJM: I know it bothers her husband too…
LP: Because he won’t let Lisa and I talk about work either!
LJM: What do you think is the best professional advice your dad has given you?
GP: I don’t think I have given her a whole lot of advice. I think she can probably watch what I do and how I conduct myself, and that may have an effect on her positively. Good behavior that she can model, and bad behavior that she can avoid.
LJM: Such as…
LP: How to interact with judges. From as long as I can remember, I have watched him in front of judges. When I first came on, I watched you more but not as much now.
GP: Watching me and other lawyers. I don’t know if you were even a lawyer yet, and I took you to the courthouse and an excellent lawyer from Sacramento was up there. Somehow I got a pretty good result, but you told me afterwards I was lucky because the other lawyer was far superior and was quite skilled in his presentation to the Court. I did not disagree.
GP: Thank you, Laura.
LP: Also that whole watching from learning, I think there are little bits of advice you have given me throughout my life, unrelated to law, that equally applied to the law. Growing up, if I thought things were a bigger deal than maybe you thought they were, you would tell me to let it go, roll with it, some things are not worth fighting over. And that, especially in family law, we say that a million times a day to our clients. “It is not worth fighting about, let it go.” A lot of advice outside of the law is applicable. He is very hands-off as a boss.
LJM: Do you think that is why you work well with your dad?
LP: I don’t know. I mean, I grew up with him, so you’re naturally going to get along, right?
LJM: When Laura decided she was going to become a lawyer, did you think you now have a legacy, someone to pass the firm on to?
LP: (laughing) Your legacy! The George W. Pfeiffer legacy!
GP: Laura may be outta here before I get outta here.
LJM: Did you [Laura] ever think you could take the ball and run with it?
LP: Never. Never. We are technically now partners. My dad brought up the idea of being partners previously and I fought that, pretty successfully, until recently. I did not want the responsibility. I love that I get to work with my dad, but I never thought of taking over. The best part of this job is getting to work with my dad. There is no doubt in my mind that I would go do something else, probably somewhere else. Sorry buddy, your legacy is going with you!