Friday, March 17, 2000

Strong family supports lawyer through tough case

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        She doesn't look stressed. If the seven-day-a-week grind of preparing for the biggest case of her legal career is wearing on her, 51-year-old Barbara Bison Jacobson hides it well.

Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.
        Cool and collected, she's sitting in a conference room in her Hyde Park law office with her husband of 14 years, Robert Jacobson, who is 54. He looks calm, too.

        They must be great at poker. Or maybe they are thinking of making s'mores. (More about that later.)

        “We're in a strain right now, no question,” Robert says. “It's tough.”

        It's tough because a David vs. Goliath struggle is unfolding, and the little guy is their client. It's tough, too, because of the pressure the case puts on their family life.

        Barbara's client is a relatively small Evansville, Ind., company. It is suing a large French conglomerate for more than $50 million, alleging the theft of 30 years' worth of trade secrets.

        The case pits Bison Jacobson Law Office, which has seven attorneys (including Barbara), against the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis, one of the country's largest law firms. (Kenneth Starr took leave from the firm to investigate President Clinton.)

        The trial is scheduled to start next month; Barbara expects it to last two to three weeks.

        Since the first of the year, she has been working seven days a week to prepare. That's not an ideal situation, she acknowledges. Not when she has three young sons at home. Erik is 13; twins Kevin and Scott are 10.

        The boys are old enough to understand why mom and dad are so busy. Robert, who is not a lawyer, handles the business side of the law firm. Barbara has had to make several trips to London to take witness testimony.

        The boys sometimes ask her: “Are the Chicago lawyers being mean to you today?”

Ideal life partners
        At times like these, balancing family and career becomes harder than ever.

        “There is obviously a need for flexibility in our type of situation,” Barbara says.

        Robert helps provide it. “I refer to myself as the manager of household operations,” he says, smiling. Duties include getting the boys to and from activities, handling finances and cooking.

        He doesn't mind. In fact, he enjoys it.

        “And I'm big enough that when I show up at the pediatrician's with all the other mothers, nobody gives me too much guff,” he says.

        Because Robert isn't a lawyer, he and Barbara can't be law partners. But they make good life partners.

        “I feel we're very blessed,” Barbara says. “At one point in time, neither of us thought we would ever marry (again) and have a family.”

        Each had been married and divorced when a mutual friend introduced them in 1985. Robert was 39; Barbara, 37. Neither of them had children. Both wanted a family.

        Five years ago, with their boys in school, Barbara and Robert combined her legal expertise and his business background to start the Bison Jacobson Law Office. It specializes in personal injury and accidental death cases, and also works with small- to mid-sized businesses in protecting trade secrets and inventions.

        “I feel very lucky because I have the opportunity to practice law in an environment that was a dream of mine,” Barbara says.

Respite at the cabin
        Right now, though, the pressure is on. Much energy is being directed toward a very important trial.

        Whatever the outcome, Barbara, Robert and their children can look forward to spending time in Brown County, Ind. They own a cabin and some land with a pond.

        “We have our best family times there,” Robert says. “There's a level of closeness that we get that we never have in town ... ”

        It's a good place to build a camp fire, make s'mores and be together.


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