Virtual Office NYC Attorney: My Solo Practice Ended My Marriage

By Vivian Sobers - September 26, 2014
Virtual Office NYC Attorney: My Solo Practice Ended My Marriage

Virtual Office NYC Attorney, Vivian Sobers, shares how the success of her solo practice contributed to the failure of her marriage.

There has been something that I’ve been holding back for a while. Something that I have been alluding to over the past few weeks.  Here it goes:

This Summer my husband and I separated and we are working towards unwinding our marriage.

In a lot of ways, my solo law practice played a big part in this.

There. I said it. Band-Aid ripped off.

I hate failure. This was a big fail.

This is not something I am proud of. I hate failure. That is why I strive so hard to be successful in my career, even with odds stacked so high against me.

This was one of the biggest failures of my life.

My husband and I had been together since college. He played an integral role in my decision to pursue law school, and was supportive of me through the hardships of school and the beginning of my post-graduation career.

Yet when I started to see some success in my practice, the dynamic of our relationship had changed, and for the worse.

Like a first year associate, we had unrealistic expectations about the demands of the practice.

Much like the young law school grad who gets her first associate job and after six months of 60 hours weeks doing doc review thinks: “is this really what I signed up for?”, I think we, too, were naive about the real life demands of a solo law practice.

But unlike the young associate, whose work time is dictated by (and also tempered by) the needs of the partners in charge, in my solo practice, I am the partner in charge.

There was no one to tell me not to work. Not to take calls on weekends. Not to answer texts on date night. Not to be up all night thinking about strategies to win my next oral argument.

And being someone who hates failure, someone who over-prepares, someone who dives in head first to a problem, my pursuit of professional success took its toll on my personal life.

How things broke down (from my perspective).

I had expected that my husband would be supportive and he was, but he didn’t feel great about sharing me with the law, my practice or my clients. As I gained professional success, my husband felt like he lost his wife. What I didn’t realize was that my marriage was failing.

My husband didn't feel great about sharing me with my #solo practice, and my marriage ended. Click To Tweet

Like many other marriages that end, there were a million other things that led to the demise, but the demands of solo practice and the changes it made in me as a person, finally ended it. We both became unhappy and started to withdraw and fight.

Then it was over.

Just like that.

For better or worse, I have poured myself into my paramour: my solo law practice. That at least was the one constant that I had in my life.

Now, my new boyfriend is the laptop I almost always seem to fall asleep with. I’m still processing this, and hope I gain more insight about it as time passes. Right now it just sucks.

Not sure there is much else to say.


7 Deadly Mistakes That Prevent Law Practice Success

virtual office nyc Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.

30 thoughts on “Virtual Office NYC Attorney: My Solo Practice Ended My Marriage

  1. I’ve been a solo since 1994, and my wife has put up with me for 30 years this coming November. I am fortunate, blessed, lucky, whatever term you want and all of the above. For my solo practice, I’ve learned a big life lesson: “You’ve got to know when to say no.” Client bugs me at home, they’re fired. Client that called me and shouted “I just sent you an email”, fired. The over demanding clients are what add the stress that you bring home with you. Need to know what to get rid of those stress causing clients and have faith in yourself that new clients will come along to replace them. Take care of yourself first, your clients second. I’m very sad to hear this and wish I could help.

    • Vivian Sobers
      on said:

      Thank you for your comment Joe. You are definitely lucky to have your wife and its nice to hear you appreciate her the way you do. Maybe you’re right and I need a little more faith in myself. Part of it is that I’ve only been doing this for a short period of time, I have blinders on and only see my practice and what my next step is….Thanks again!

  2. Life is very difficult it is full of unexpected moments. But I don’t bye the thought that it is because of solo practice as we always has an option it’s just we can’t see or don’t want to see.

    Even if you are separated you can still go back until your husband got married. And to find happiness in life even without any one or some one is in our hands or to find another person in life.

  3. Yes, this sucks. But I think blaming your practice misses the mark. Your husband’s character traits, emotional health, etc., notwithstanding, you made the choice to devote your heart and soul to your business which left him without a wife. I base my comment on your comment that you couldn’t resist returning a business text on date night. That right there tells me that you were so absorbed with you ( when you run a solo practice, your business is you) that you didn’t have anything leftover for him. Now, to be not so mean – you’ve decided to keep the practice and ditch the hubby. OK. Do yourself a favor and don’t get married until you know that you can turn off the business at the end of the day. Anything less is not fair to you or to your new husband. Good luck in everything.

    • Vivian Sobers
      on said:

      Barry, I agree on some level it was my “choice” and there is always more than one factor that play into the end of a marriage. You are also right that I was absorbed with myself/solo practice. My dilemma/question is what do you do when you love them both? I love what I do it makes me smile and makes me happy. My husband did also, but after over a decade of loving him, I wanted to love myself more. Good or bad this was the result.

  4. We are not a profession known for admitting fears or failures to our peers. This was one of the most courageous and honest blog post I have read, and valuable insight about the effect a solo law practice can have on your personal life, especially for those thinking about choosing this path in life. Thank you Vivian.

  5. akinmolapo Oluwalana
    on said:

    Its not too late,u can get back with ur husband, u don’t have to divorce. Remember GOD hates divorce. Ur family 1st

  6. I had a similar situation and chose the husband. Funny thing is men usually don’t have to make a choice. Having said that, don’t take all the blame yourself. When marriages end it is because two people failed to figure it out.

    • Hi Davina:

      I helped Vivian edit this post, and while doing so gave some thought to how gender issues may have played a part in this, and how that plays a role in not just solo law practice, but female owned businesses in general. Especially where a woman’s success starts to eclipse that of her husband’s.

      Perhaps a topic of another article that you’d like to participate in.


    • Vivian Sobers
      on said:

      I agree it always takes two. You make an interesting point. If it was a man choosing his career or neglecting his home life because of work demands this wouldn’t be such an issue and it would almost seem boring to talk about. But, I’m a woman, not just a woman, but an entrepreneur and lawyer. I felt like I gave my marriage my all, but my dreams and what I love got in the way. I guess its a lesson learned for the future.

  7. I had my solo practice for 14 years now. And it is successful. Thankfully, no divorce. I married after my practice was in place but my husband, then boyfriend, saw the demands of law school. The bottom line is the boundaries that you set. When I am in the office, I am in the office. When I am home, I am home. I shut my cell phone off at a certain time and I stop reading work emails at 6pm (unless there is a serious emergency). That’s it! Work will be there the next day. I do not work weekends. I have a 6 year old that will not be a child forever. I refuse to let my personal life pass me by. You can’t get that back. I work hard, but I also play hard. It is tough to find the balance at first, but when you do, your life will be much better. You owe it to yourself. Much success to you!

    • Vivian Sobers
      on said:

      I hate to say this, but I don’t set boundaries because I simply don’t want to. That’s the problem. For me, its almost like asking me to stop eating chocolate! I didn’t know how involved I would become with my practice when I started, but as it progressed and success and happiness came from it, it was hard for me to give up my chocolate.

  8. I’ve been doing the solo gig successfully for 20 years. You need to set boundaries like Joe B said above. Control your clients and separate your “home” self from your “attorney” self. Use a separate cell phone for yourself, and one for clients. Don’t give out your home phone number. Turn off your computer, cell and other office communication after normal office hours. If you can’t discipline yourself, clients will sense it and won’t respect you. You own your own business, treat it like a business. Next husband, pick someone who is successfully self-employed, too. When you eat what you kill, your whole outlook on life is different. Good luck and many fish in the sea.

    • I agree. You have to set boundaries. Not just for your practice but your marriage. When you are married, it’s a three ball juggle: you, the spouse, and the marriage. You need time to respect each other and both need to respect for your bond. Heck, I can stay up all night researching and writing. Hard to turn it off. The Law is a jealous mistress, true, so be true to your mate. The rest will follow.

  9. You recognize it, you can fix it, go back to your husband – quit the practice, work elsewhere. For God’s sake, whatever you are doing for work is nowhere near as important as the vows you made to your husband.

  10. Vivian Sobers
    on said:

    Laura, I appreciate the comments, but for better or worse, I’m just not ready to separate the two. Maybe its because I haven’t been doing the solo gig for long enough. Part of it too was that I changed as a person when I started my practice. I was no longer the same and was no longer willing to be the wife first. I’m not making excuses this divorce is one of the most painful events I’ve ever gone through and I know a part of it is my fault. Maybe Ill keep all this in mind when I start dating again. For now, I’m happy to continue as I have.

  11. I guess my happy personal life is the silver lining to not enjoying practicing law very much – my health and family come first, then my solo practice. When I was first out of law school, I was very into practicing law. It got me excited and I took it really seriously. After working in a high-volume litigation firm for five years, I realized that I really did not enjoy fighting with people all day or writing the same briefs over and over again. I realized that when I am old and on my deathbed, I am not going to care about any of these cases or judges. I started evaluating what is important – and that is my health and my family. I also started realizing that so many successful attorneys are failures in life. I quit and started my solo practice two years ago. I now work half as much and draw a hard line between my life and work. I have yet to encounter a real emergency. Everything is an emergency to a client. I now look back at my former life as a firm associate (almost like a domestic violence victim) and ask why I put up with that abuse for so long…

  12. Vivian Sobers
    on said:

    Olivia, I’ve heard the same story again and again where attorneys don’t enjoy practicing very much. For me, I enjoyed it from the moment I raised my hand and took the oath. I will be honest, I started my own law practice practically from the moment I got sworn in so my experience has definitely been non-traditional. When I look at my future, I am scared about being alone. My grandfather recently passed and in his last days he spoke about dedicating his life to his career and not paying attention to the family as much as he wouldve liked. And, on his deathbed it was us, the family, that was there, not “clients”. Maybe I’m just young and naive. Maybe this is a learning experience. I quite frankly don’t have the answers, but it helps to share, so thank you for the comments.

  13. I commend you for starting your own practice out of law school (I did the same thing, despite many people telling me I couldn’t do it). You are right that your situation sucks right now but it is probably for the best in the long run. Being absorbed and a committed solo practitioner does not mean you don’t deserve love or a husband, it just means you have to find the right person who understands your commitment to the law.

    This was an incredible article and so completely honest. I know, as a solo, it is hard to admit our failings because there is no one left to blame except ourselves. Good luck moving forward and keep your head up!

  14. 1: I find this post, and your responding comments, strange in that you seem to be trying to use this divorce announcement to advertise how dedicated you are to the practice of law, as though this is a badge of honor memorializing the sacrifices of your success. If that was your intent, it seems likely to backfire.

    2: The comments suggesting that this wouldn’t be a problem for a man obviously have not observed the prevalence of divorce for male lawyers. Many a lawyer husband has had a wife leave him because he was too dedicated to his work (deservedly so in many cases). It may not be notable, but that only is because it is common. Other male lawyers are in terrible marriages because of the hours they put in that are held together only by the common financial interest of the family (these are tenuous unions at best). I also find it dubious that people in general think it is okay for a man to sacrifice his relationship with his family for his work. It is a such time honored and well used criticism of our culture that it is now cliche (probably has been since Harry Chapin’s wife wrote the poem that became Cat’s in the Cradle in 1974).

    3: Without getting into the particulars of your situation, I think you should take some solace in the fact that from what you described, it sounds like a separation/divorce was best for all involved. Anyone so dedicated to their work that they are, in all practice ways, married to their job is best off admitting that to themselves and to their significant other and to walk away without the stress of holding something together that is not meant to be.

  15. Vivian Sobers
    on said:

    Joe, I am running a business so part of it is of course marketing. But, I do actually love being a lawyer. I’ve met a lot of attorneys and it definitely seems like I’m alone on that island. The veteran attorneys especially seem beat down by the practice. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been practicing as long. Maybe I’m naive. Either way, this is what I always wanted to do. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where I want to throw my phone against the wall, or that my clients don’t make me want to pull my hair out, or that I love being yelled at by judges until I feel two inches tall. The point is that generally, if I have a choice, I rather be working on my cases or talking about the law. I also recognize that its selfish of me and that you’re right it was the best for everyone involved. I agree that it happens for male lawyers too, but I think for women its more of an oddity to think that I would give up the traditional dream of love and marriage because I love being a lawyer or my career more. Either way thank you for the comments.

  16. Vivian:

    I’ve been running a law firm now for 11 years and I always tell attorneys contemplating the possibility of launching their own firm that they need to consider how solidly their spouse or any important family members are behind them before they get into this because it is incredibly demanding and will take a toll on any relationship if the family member is not behind them 100%. I explain to them that there will be times where clients default on payment and leave you holding the bill, that there will be times where business is slow and you will have to figure out how to pay the bills regardless and how to find new business to fill in the downtime, and there will be times when you are just overwhelmed with too many demands on you personally and that the business will end up taking priority. Plus, it’s much harder to separate mentally from a personal law practice than from a employer job. If important family members are not able to be supportive during these times, it will take a toll on the relationships. While relationships with any other person–whether it’s a significant other, family member, or friend absolutely go both ways–some people just aren’t really cut out for the ups and downs, uncertainty, and stress of a small business like a law practice and need the comfort and stability of interacting with someone else who has a salary, regular hours, and a more “normal” life. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting and even having expectations of this type, but if you have them, it’s not compatible with the lifestyle required by launching a firm. It is far more demanding on most of us, I think, then we ever actually anticipate. Working at a firm as an salaried employee can be stressful too, but management on top of the practice is a particular kind of stress all to itself.

    Having said this, there are a large number of men in this profession who have been divorced one or more times, so I would say there is a high divorce rate in this profession generally–and a high rate of people who never marry. Especially in litigation. Divorce is widespread across all types of legal practice, everywhere. And it’s pretty high in the general population of non-lawyers, too.

    I came across this posting by chance today and don’t know you or follow your postings, but I’m sorry that you have had to experience the pain of a failed marriage and divorce. Hopefully new doors will open for you as this chapter of your life closes. As a business owner, the success of your business and your practice depends on you rising above this painful event and looking toward the future. I wish you the best in this endeavor.


  17. Kristie,

    Thank you for your comment. You really explained it well, its not just a lawyer job its also the management and all the hats that come with it. I’m not sure what the future holds for my personal life, its a process I suppose, but its nice to see I’m not alone so thanks again!

  18. Wow, this was shockingly frank. Thank you for posting this Vivian. This is a pretty concise look at the somewhat less glamorous side of practicing law that most folks do not know about and which certainly isn’t taught in law schools (although a few of my old professors would allude to this unfortunate dynamic in our profession from time-to-time).

    While I am sure there are 1,001 reasons why I never married, my commitment of time and effort to my education and career tops the list. Fear of seeming inevitable divorce ranks at about second.

    I do, however, have some responsibilities at home (which is why I returned to the US in the first place). One of the measures I have put into place to create firm, reliable boundaries between myself and my career (e.g., clients) is e-mail before you call (I don’t represent people on death row, so define the word “emergency”, right?). Nothing is ever so urgent that a client cannot provide a heads-up via e-mail and waiting for me to respond before calling. At the very least, unexpected calls interrupt my train of thought while I am working on something. And, I never give my cell number to clients unless I absolutely have to (such as, I get an e-mail asking to speak over the phone, and I know I’ll be running around for a while). Even when I give out my cell number, I only do so with the caveat that the client agrees to not make a habit out of using it.

    Now, I realize that some who might read this little comment may be LFS “virtual” clients. I recognize that, often, your home or cell phones will pick up your “office” calls. That’s fine. Make use of your caller ID. After a certain hour, simply do not answer calls that are not personal calls. Clients can leave voice mail messages and, if something is truly an “emergency” (some of you may well represent criminal defendants whose liberty and future is on the line) return the call. Otherwise, call them back or email them the next day. When your “office” is closed, its closed.

    I hope the above helps a bit. Thanks again, Vivian, for contributing such a strikingly honest conveyance of what many lawyers, especially small firm/ solo practitioners, experience simply because they have chosen a career in law, and chose to be their own boss. I am sorry to learn of your difficulties and hope that things work out for you and your family.

    Kind regards,

  19. Andre Woodson
    on said:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing.

    I had a similar situation when I was in the Army because as they say in the Army, “If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one!” My ex-wife an I have two kids from that marriage and it is from that experience that I am reluctant to begin a solo practice (on of the reasons). You see, I was recently laid off from a job in the financial services industry. I went to law school at night thinking that when I would have a job with a firm after graduation. Well, the bottom fell out from the economy after I passed the bar and I could not find anything full time that would pay me any where near what I was making in financial services. So naturally, I started thinking seriously about a solo practice and got to thinking that that might be too much of a burden on my family.

    I am remarried and have a wonderful wife and a 7 year old daughter and the thought of being ‘married’ to the job (again) just frightens me! My wife and I have a great relationship and I do not want to put anything before her or our daughter. I know that your story is your story, but I am positive that you are not alone.

    Best of luck to you, Vivian.


  20. The image of you falling asleep with your “new boyfriend” every night, i.e., your laptop, reminds me of a lyric from “Hello Dolly”, when Dolly is threatening to dump her intended beau Horace, the recent widower and millionaire: “So…on those cold winter nights, Horace… You can snuggle up to your cash register. It’s a bit lumpy – but it rings!”

    As a 18-year law firm software consultant, mostly NOT solo’s, I can tell you from personal experience that the really happy lawyers are the one’s with a life outside of work.

    Word to the wise. Best of Luck and Success.

  21. Vivian, I am very sorry that it has happened to you. You will get over it, I am sure. And you will find love again. Just for the next time, try and make a fine line. If you are dining with your husband, do not check work e-mails on your phone.
    With my husband and other family members we are running a small law firm. I also run a successful online retail business. This leaves me with only 1-2 hours of non-working time per day. But I use this short period the best I can. I only see my husband about 1 hour a day. As I am a loner, I do not suffer from loneliness, and that is OK with me. Still, time to time, I get pissed and start yelling. I think the mistake a lot of people make is that they do not talk to each other until it is too late. I wish you to recover and to have a great next relationship!

  22. I have just started a solo practice, after practicing in a law firm as a counsel for years. Please, I will appreciate it, if you can obliged me with some tips of becoming a successful solo practice.

    I wish you the best in your endeavours.

    Best regards.

  23. Vivian,

    Newsflash: No one in a larger-than-solo firm would have EVER told you not to work, not to answer those texts, not to spend 80+ hours per week doing your job. That would not have happened. And your husband would have felt just as neglected had you been in a “real job” as he felt as a result of your attention to your solo practice. In fact, he would likely have seen far less of you had you gone to work for BigLaw.

    Thus, I argue that your solo practice did not end your marriage; the fact that you and your husband developed differing and incompatible life goals ended your marriage. The solo practice problem was just a symptom of the larger issue(s).

    My condolences; divorce is not fun. But you will survive, move on, and life will look up, I promise. Been there done that.

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