Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 29 seconds

Happy..Happy.. Mother's Day :-)..

Imagine you not only practice law with your mother, but your combined number of years practicing law is more than 80.

Furthermore, consider your entire legal career of nearly 34 years has been with your mother as your law partner. That’s exactly what Heather Sowald, an accomplished domestic relations attorney in Columbus, Ohio, enjoys as the legacy of her legal career. Her mother Bea Sowald earned her law degree from the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University in 1966, a time when not too many women pursued and achieved legal careers.

The elder Sowald, whose father was an attorney in Boston, knew she wanted to practice law from an early age. “From my childhood, I wanted to be a lawyer. As a child, I listened to a radio show called ‘Portia Faces Life,’ and I thought, ‘gee, that’s nice.’” It focused on Portia Blake, a widowed lawyer raising her ten-year-old son while fighting crime and corruption in the small burg of Parkersburg. The character eventually met and married crusading journalist Walter Manning, whose life work was to expose the criminal element that murdered Portia’s first husband.

“I knew men became lawyers but didn’t know women did,” says Bea Sowald.

According to daughter, Heather, being a female attorney in those days was not easy. “When she got out [of law schools], law firms would not interview her,” she says. Her mother nods and says, “Law firms told me ‘we don’t hire girls.’”

Not to be deterred, her initial law job was as a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. Six years later, Bea had become a supervising attorney. Following Heather’s 1979 graduation from Capital Law School in Columbus, two mother-daughter duo joined forces to form Sowald & Sowald, a firm focused on domestic relations matters. In 1983, then-Ohio Governor Richard Celeste appointed Bea to the Franklin County Domestic Relations bench. She was later named a judge on the Franklin Court Municipal Court bench.

How They Do It

The elder Sowald has never regretted her decision to practice law alongside her daughter. “It’s delightful to see my daughter so often, and for her, it’s the same thing. We don’t argue. We have different styles but together we forged our firm and our identity,” she says. The two often discuss firm-related business matters, such as advertising, cutting-edge software and the purchase of laptops, but they maintain separate law practices. “We are both very busy with our own caseloads, so we don’t get to see one another much,” says Heather.

In addition to their burgeoning law practice, both women have been extremely active leaders in the legal community. Bea was active on various committees with the Ohio State Bar Association and, since 1987, has co-authored the ‘Ohio Domestic Relations’ resource book. She also served as an adjunct law professor, teaching family law, at OSU’s Moritz College of Law. The same night Bea was honored with the OSBA’s Bar Medal Award in 2004, Heather was sworn in as President of that 28,000 member organization. She is also co-founder of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Central Ohio as well as past president of the Columbus Bar Association and the Franklin County Trial Lawyers’ Association.

The mother-daughter team has also taught family law at the Moritz College of Law together for two semesters and are frequent lecturers on the topic.

Pros and Cons

Both women say practicing law together has been an incredibly positive experience. “I get to hear more about the family,” says Bea

One of Heather’s favorite moments practicing law with her mom occurred over three decades ago but still conjures up wonderful memories. “I still remember when my 31-year-old son was born and he only breastfed. He came to the office and sometimes mom would bounce him on one knee while she dictated. You could hear Drew’s babble in the background,” she says with a smile.

Bea’s advice for other moms and daughters considering hanging their shingle together? “Be on good terms before you start. If you don’t respect one another, working together won’t help.”

Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and freelance writer.

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Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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