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VOL. 124 | NO. 84 | Thursday, April 30, 2009

Married Attorneys: Working Together A Bonus for Clients

By Rebekah Hearn

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HONEYMOON PHASE: Bob Flynn recently joined his wife, Michele Howard-Flynn, at The Howard-Flynn Law Group. Flynn previously practiced for more than 30 years at another Memphis firm. -- PHOTO BY REBEKAH HEARN

In the Memphis legal community, it’s not hard to find two attorneys who are married to each other. Constantly meeting new people is one of the most basic components of their jobs.

But finding married couples who practice law at the same firm is not as common. As the Memphis Bar Association reports, “very few” attorney spouses work together. The association doesn’t keep specific numbers on that.

However, it’s not unheard of. And in some cases, the working relationship between a married couple comes naturally, some attorneys say – and strengthens their practice.

Lifelines

Bob Flynn joined his wife, Michele Howard-Flynn, at The Howard-Flynn Law Group about a month ago. He formerly worked at Spicer, Flynn and Rudstrom PLLC. He practices in premises liability, real estate and construction litigation, transportation litigation and alternative dispute resolution.

As a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed mediator and veteran trial lawyer, Flynn brings new and expanded sets of skills to Howard-Flynn’s practice.

“Michele’s had 10 years of experience trying lawsuits; I’ve had 30-some years experience trying lawsuits,” he said. “So I think we both have very good reputations as being trial lawyers and as people who are not afraid to go to court.”

Flynn’s experience as a mediator has made him a natural conflict resolver in his career. With his addition to his wife’s group, the firm has begun the Legal Life Line, which allows attorneys with questions to call The HF Law Group and receive advice from a group of trial lawyers who have experience in many aspects of the law, from logistics litigation to probate services to employment law.

“I practiced with (Spicer Flynn) for some 30-some-odd years, and I saw a lot of situations come up where lawyers tend to get overwhelmed by their opposition, and we thought this would be a good idea to come up with, to offer a service to our fellow attorneys,” Flynn said. “So if you are in a situation where you have a tough case and you need more manpower and more experience, well, candidly, this is the kind of thing I’ve done over the years for my partners or for other clients.”

Any attorney who calls for assistance or advice establishes their own privilege with The HF Law Group. Part of the Legal Life Line program is a written statement that says the firm will not accept any further representation from the questioning attorney’s client without that attorney’s permission.

“(It stays) within the fee structure that the client was already going to pay,” Flynn said. “So there’s no double-billing or anything like that. Our (fee), we just work it out with the lawyer.”

As far as working with his wife, Flynn said the transition has worked out very well.

“We tend to think alike and we tend to feed off each other,” he said. “She respects my experience and I certainly respect her intelligence.”

When asked if their work and home dynamics are different, Flynn said “not really.”

“Our personal and business relationships always seem to stay the same,” he said. “The dynamic’s really staying the same across the board (for us).”

Michele Howard-Flynn was unavailable to comment at length because she was traveling, but she did say that she was “very pleased” with the addition of her husband to the firm and the launch of Legal Life Line.

Personality match

Joining the Flynns in the small community of married practicing attorneys are David and Roberta Kustoff at Kustoff & Strickland PLLC. Like the Flynns, their work dynamic is set up to offer distinctive services to their clients while working within their own limits.

David Kustoff is a former U.S. attorney for the western district of Tennessee who resigned in May to practice privately with Jim Strickland. He focuses on general practice, including personal injury and workers’ compensation cases.

Roberta Kustoff, who was previously at Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC, brings probate and estate planning knowledge to the practice. She also performs some administrative and bookkeeping duties, which she said helps her husband focus more on practicing law and a bit less on the tricky business of running a firm.

Roberta works from home much of the time, multitasking as an attorney, office administrator and mother, which allows her the freedom to offer probate services to clients within their homes.

“Roberta is very hands-on,” David Kustoff said. “She’s very good with clients … and for her to be willing to go to somebody’s house and meet with them – especially if they’re elderly – and to have somebody of Roberta’s skill and caliber and personality coming to their living room is very important, and very appreciated.”

The Kustoffs said their work dynamic is no different from the rest of their lives.

“No,” they both easily replied in separate interviews when asked if their work dynamic was much different from their personal dynamic.

“I have a lot of respect for what (David) does,” Roberta Kustoff said. “It worked out well just for me to bring my aspect of practicing over to his firm, so I can (help) his clients. And I certainly have a lot of respect for him, because it takes a lot of work to manage a firm and keep it going.”

David Kustoff said they are able to separate work from family.

“We know where the dividing line is,” he said. “And that’s important.”

The ability to maintain a solid marriage and a solid working relationship are some of the aspects of practicing together that the Flynns and the Kustoffs touted when discussing their work. Both couples work a lot from home – the Kustoffs have their home computer hooked up to their office server, so David can call or e-mail his wife with any questions or issues that may come up while he’s in the office and she’s at home with their children.

“I think we both have the right personalities to work together,” David Kustoff said.

Flynn said much the same when he referred to him and Michele as being “kindred spirits.”

“In fact, the reason that we work so well together, I think, is because we don’t turn it on and off,” Flynn said. “We are who we are, 24/7.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 110 19,224
MORTGAGES 0 125 22,175
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 7 58 2,894
BUILDING PERMITS 0 116 39,432
BANKRUPTCIES 36 98 12,346
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 21 6,287
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 41 41 7,313
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 35 4,396