Relationship Advice

Dr. N. Robert Riordan

Dr. N. Robert Riordan is a graduate of NYU School of Law and a former U.S. securities attorney for London- and Sydney-based Herbert Smith Freehills. After 10 years of practice in New York, London and Rome, he made the switch from corporate law to private practice as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Riordan now acts as a therapist to dozens of NYC attorneys. The following is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Riordan. (You can read the first part here.)

ATL: In addition to professionals like attorneys, whom do you see in your private practice?

The remainder of my practice focuses on couples. I work with two distinct types of couples. First, I see couples whose romantic relationships are in crisis. The goal here is to improve their bond to one another. I happen to see many couples where both parties are professionals, and, most often, each member of the couple is struggling to balance personal and professional demands.

ATL: I would imagine that couples come to treatment for a variety of reasons.

I work with many couples whose connection to one another has been strained by things like demanding careers, childrearing, or an unexpected financial hardship. These couples are looking to recapture the connection that originally brought them together and to start working as a partnership again. Also I work with a handful of couples who are facing specific challenges, like infidelity or the loss of a child.

ATL: Has your training as an attorney prepared you for the conflicts that presumably arise in couples’ therapy?

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Congratulations to the newly minted Biglaw partners out there. Despite Biglaw’s current problems and murky future, it really is a signature professional achievement. So take a night, or a week, or even two to celebrate. And then get ready to start re-evaluating your entire life, top to bottom. You may not get a better chance, ever.

What am I talking about? Simple. In order to make partner in today’s Biglaw, you have made numerous sacrifices. Whether it be your student debt, your relationships, your waistline, or anything else, your sacrifice has now been validated. You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity. A minute ago, you were single. Now, married. A minute ago, you were just another Biglaw associate. Now, you are a partner. Beautiful.

I am not discussing here the “professional” aspects about making partner, such as the need to start building a book of business, and how to handle yourself at the office. You will learn most of what you need to know on that front at your new partner orientation — a gloatfest galore, typically — and you will then spend a career figuring it all out.

Rather, I want to address some of the “personal” ramifications that hearing the good news of your “election” or “promotion” will lead to. Because it would be a shame to waste this golden opportunity to change the things about your life that you are less than perfectly satisfied with….

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It’s not part of a legal strategy or way to churn the file; it’s an attorney-initiated discussion about the client smack in the middle of the case.

What usually happens is that the attorney is retained, legal work begins, the client is updated as to the status of the case/matter, asked to weigh in occasionally on strategy, and reminded about the pending bill. We see this as part of the job, but how do the clients perceive the representation?

At some point in the representation, the best chance you have to hear what the client is really thinking is when they are not happy. You’ll get that anxious phone call, that question that is really a criticism, and it is during those times that you focus on trying to make the client happy.

What if you were proactive?

What if you scheduled a non-billable meeting with the client, outside your office, for the sole purpose of allowing the client to voice their overall concerns after you’ve been representing them for a while?

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Anytime my lawyer friends talk shop, my divorce lawyer friend always has the most interesting stories. A few months ago, a group of us went for happy hour. The conversation turned to a discussion of what we were doing at work. I said that my client was contemplating settlement over his parking lot lawsuit. Everyone yawned. My finance lawyer friend began to talk about securitizing something, but then just stopped talking because she knew her work was even more boring. This trend continued until my divorce lawyer friend talked about a recent trial. The highlights of her story included a lesbian affair and a mail-order bride. We were all rapt.

For that reason, I have wanted to profile a divorce firm for a while. Recently, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with San Francisco family lawyer (I guess they prefer that term) Erik Newton. His firm, Heath Newton LLP, has become a highly regarded boutique law firm that specializes in “Family Building,” “Divorce and Dissolution,” and “Asset Protection”….

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As I approach the completion of my third full year at Above the Law, you’d think I wouldn’t feel the need to write a memo every time I take a week off so people don’t start partying like I’ve been fired. Yet… well, let’s just say that Dan Savage came to me in a dream and said, “It gets better — except for you, Elie.”

I jest. As regular readers know, this is the time I take off to celebrate my wedding anniversary. I leave you in the always capable hands of managing editor David Lat and ATL’s newest staff writer, Staci Zaretsky. Please send all tips and story ideas to them at tips@abovethelaw.com.

Marriage has been on my mind a lot this summer. I attended the wonderful wedding of an old friend last weekend. But mainly I’ve been thinking about marriage and family in the context of the many strong reactions to my debt posts.

Some of the most surprising reactions were from people who contended that I was essentially being a bad husband by quitting my Biglaw job while still saddled with serious debts. According to these people, including some women, a better husband would have stuck it out in Biglaw for however long it took until my wife and I could be debt-free.

Are these people insane?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

As I have previously discussed, one thing I wish to accomplish with this column (in addition to the instant boost of self-esteem I receive whenever I read a comment) is to provide specific information to attorneys considering small firms. To that end, meet Ray Prather and Daniel Ebner, principals of Prather Ebner LLP.

Ray Prather was a successful solo practitioner specializing in estate and trust planning. Dan Ebner, an HLS grad and former district court clerk, was a Kirkland & Ellis associate. Realizing that their backgrounds complemented each other — that Prather had experience in running a small firm, and that Ebner had a valuable referral source in Biglaw connections — these partners in life decided to become partners in law.

So how did they make it happen?

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Plus, you always surrender in an argument with your wife, right? Isn’t that the formula for marital happiness?

– Judge Richard Posner, quoted recently in the New York Times in an article about “sell by” or “use by” dates for food.

Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com

Dear ATL,

I am just starting law school and I have a boyfriend from college who’s in a different state now going for a degree in architecture. I like him a lot, but now that I’m here I’m wondering if I should rid myself of the distraction (especially during 1L first semester) or whether I should just start with a clean slate and see what the guys are like here. You’ve been around law school guys, do you think they are worth my time or should I hang on to my current guy unless/until something better comes along?

— Sophie’s Choice

Dear Sophie’s Choice,

This reminds me of those people who roll up to college with framed pictures of their “serious” high school boyfriends / girlfriends (who invariably were still seniors in high school) and leave parties early to return to the dorm to fight on the phone with them at 2 a.m. The primary purpose of these relationships is to provide a security blanket just in case they don’t make any friends in college, and when they inevitably DO make friends in college, the college person breaks up with the high school bf/gf because they finally realize that dating someone from high school is embarrassing and lame and going to prom in the cafeteria via limo is simply out of the question. This applies to everyone except for my parents, who prudently stayed together through high school, college and graduate school, in order to bestow upon this planet myself and two inferior siblings…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Pls Hndle Thx: Upgrade U”