In Love with Law — and with Another Lawyer: Alumni Couples Share Stories of How Love Bloomed
Clockwise from top left: Phil and Lisa Ferneau '87 at their wedding; the Ferneus today; Kaleb Froehlich '07 and Annie Simpson '06; Ron '73 and Regina Mysliwiec '72 today; the Mysliwiecs while at UVA Law.
Ron '73 and Regina Mysliwiec '72
Ron Mysliwiec was a Pennsylvania state high school debate champion who competed nationally, so his interest was piqued when his coach told him one day, "I met a girl who can beat you." It sounded like a challenge. He recalls thinking, "Well, you've got to test that one." When he later met Regina Crea, the New York state champion, that thought grew into: "This is my mission. I'm going to marry this girl."
Regina needed a little more convincing. "I initially thought he was too tall," she said. Regina was 5 feet 1 ½ inches, while Ron stood 6 feet 4 inches. She attempted to sell Ron on her taller friend during their first (double) date.
"He said 'No!'" she said. "At some point the height stopped being important."
Forty-seven years later, it's apparent Mysliwiec's determination won out, as the pair weathered long-distance love in college, law school at the University of Virginia together, three children and two high-powered legal careers. The couple, who married in the midst of law school, are sharing their story this Valentine's Day, along with other alumni couples who found UVA Law to be an important stop on the way to lifelong love.
They started a romance from afar in high school (she lived in Brooklyn, he was from Pittsburgh), and dated in college (Regina at Fordham in the Bronx, Ron at the University of Pennsylvania).
Ron '73 and Regina Mysliwiec '72
while at the Law School.
"[It was] $8 [on the train] if you went and came back on the same day," Regina said.
Though she entered college at 16 and Ron at 17, she graduated first and started law school at the University of Virginia. Ron took an extra year to complete a disparate double major in economics and electrical engineering, but followed the next year.
"I regret not having gone through the first year together because he made great outlines," Regina said. "And every course we took together I got an honors in, so I wish he had started then."
When he visited during that first year, Charlottesville "was so foreign to me, being a Yankee," Ron said. "The University of Virginia might as well have been LSU."
Law was a family business for Regina – her father was a law professor at Brooklyn Law School and is still, at 97, connected to the school. Law was totally new to Ron's family. His father, a mechanical engineer, introduced him to a man one day who "talked the way I thought," Ron said. He was a lawyer. After that, Ron said, "I knew there were more of us."
In 1969 when she entered law school, Regina was one of 18 women in a class of 340 – an unusually large number of students due to an influx of Vietnam veterans who were home after wartime.
The Mysliwiecs married in August 1970, and the first leg of their honeymoon involved moving Ron's things to Charlottesville at their apartment on 13 ½ Street, within walking distance to the Law School's former home at Clark Hall. They spent the remainder of their honeymoon at a friend's house in Jacksonville, Fla. He was 22, she was 21.
"There were lots and lots of married couples [in law school], but the people who were the intense focus of scrutiny were the married law students," Regina said.
After law school and a clerkship with a federal appeals court judge, Ron worked for law firms in Boston and New York and litigated cases across the country, including entertainment cases in which he deposed Madonna and represented Don King. He currently practices solo as an attorney in the financial services industry, mostly arbitration and mediation cases.
In the meantime, Regina worked for the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, primarily in New York, but also in Washington, D.C. She worked briefly as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Boston and a special counsel in the Boston regional office. After her work with the SEC, she worked at the New York Stock Exchange for 18 years, and retired when they went public.
Law is "all we've ever known. It's the family business," Ron said. Their son, Paul, a double 'Hoo, graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2006 after serving two tours in Iraq.
Their middle child, Regina, is a doctor and their youngest, Brendan, is in law school.
Regina said one secret to their success is that their careers meshed. While Ron was in private practice, often working long hours away from home, Regina stuck to public service jobs that were more family friendly. It helped that they were married for 10 years before they had kids, she said, so having seniority offered her flexibility as a parent. But, importantly, a housekeeper and nanny they had for 13 years "absolutely made it possible."
"It takes a village to raise children," she said.
Regina recalled her disappointment when, after returning from six weeks of maternity leave, she realized how hard it would be to work and have children too.
"It was exhausting," she said. "It was exhausting for the next 20 years!"
The couple made it work. When Ron was trying a case out of town, he would have his kids visit, or even occasionally bring them to court. But when a juror asked if his daughter could have donuts with them in the jury room and the opposing counsel objected to her presence, she was banned.
Ron '73 and Regina Mysliwiec '72
"You're terrified of losing. It's all-engrossing," he said of working in litigation. "I was simply at war. You just couldn't pay attention to family things and do your job. I had to lead my crowd by example and that left Regina on her own for months at a time with little kids."
"But he managed to be there when all of them were born," Regina added.
Ron said that although they were both debate champions and lawyers, their differences may have helped them weather the years too.
"If it's a contest to see who hits the buzzer first, Regina's going to win," Ron said. "You're either intuition first, or data processing first, and I'm a data processor."
Ron said he didn't realize until he was older that most people don't find passion for a career or significant other so young in life. But he realized once those two areas of his life were squared away, "The rest is just details."
Phil and Lisa Ferneau '87
Lisa Lelli needed a date. In her first year of law school at the University of Virginia in 1984, she was supposed to chaperone a formal for the women in her undergraduate sorority.
"You had to have an alumnae at the [UVA] dance," she said, and she was on call to fill that role.
Phil and Lisa Ferneau '87 on their
She knew that Phil Ferneau, a handsome fellow 1L, had gone to a ball during President Reagan's inauguration festivities.
"So I was thinking, ''Gosh, I bet Phil has a tux,'' so I asked him to be my date so I could chaperone."
"I was surprised," said Phil, "pleasantly so, after all, she was just as cute then as she is today. It was our first date and I didn't really know what to expect. Obviously something clicked that night because we've been together ever since."
Now the Ferneaus live in New Hampshire, have two kids and are still just as in love as they were throughout their time at Virginia Law. Phil teaches venture capital and private equity finance to graduate students in Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, and is a venture capitalist himself through his company, Borealis Ventures. Lisa, after working in securities litigation for a firm in Washington, D.C., then later for a small firm near her current town in New Hampshire, took time off to raise two girls, now 13 and 15.
Lisa was born in Chicago but spent most of her childhood in McLean, Va., where her father worked for the federal government.
"My father always talked very glowingly about the lawyers he had to work with in his business [as a contracting officer for the Navy," she said. Her father said they were "so reasonable and intellectual."
So after majoring in English at UVA she set her sights on law school.
Phil, whose parents both worked on Capitol Hill, grew up in Bethesda, Md., and entered law school after majoring in government at Dartmouth.
"I hoped that law school would build on my liberal arts education and sharpen my thinking and writing skills before I eventually would go to work in Washington, D.C., on policy or legislative matters," he said.
Although they were not in many classes together, Lisa and Phil partnered in Trial Advocacy and they also teamed up to represent University of Virginia undergraduate students at honor trials. Lisa said her class of about 350 students was perhaps 40 percent female, and it was not uncommon for law students to pair up.
"Partnering with Lisa in Trial Advocacy and on honor trials were definitely highlights of our time in law school — we made a great team," Phil said.
Phil and Lisa Ferneau '87 at their wedding.
They didn't really compete with each other, though they may have interviewed for the same law firm once or twice, Lisa said.
"At times he would come to me for my notes," she said. "He would be the first to admit that it would have been for him hard for him to get through Fed Courts without me."
Both were living at home while interning for (different) D.C. firms when Phil saved enough money for a ring from the vintage jewelry shop across the street from the firm he was working at.
"I'd cash every paycheck and apply most of it towards the ring until one payday, the ring was finally paid for," he said. "I lured her into her parents' living room saying that I wanted to take a picture of us together."
"Of course in most families no one ever sat in the living room, they sat in the family room," Lisa added. She suspected something was up.
"I set up the camera on the tripod, pushed the auto-timer, and pulled out the ring and asked her just before the shutter snapped," he said. "I'll never forget the joy of that moment, but we also have it captured on film."
Afterwards, the couple went out for celebratory burgers. "We weren't flush with cash at the time," she said.
Phil and Lisa Ferneau '87 today.
Just two weeks after graduation the pair married at the University Chapel, and had their reception at the Clifton Inn, which had recently been renovated into a hotel (it's gotten "much swankier" since then, Lisa said). They were scheduled to start bar review on Monday, so they spent a single night at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond. Once they took the bar exam, they enjoyed a six-week honeymoon trek through England, Scotland and Ireland.
"I imagine most lawyers bemoan the time they spend studying for the bar exam, but I recall that time fondly," Phil said. "The studying itself wasn't that memorable — although I will never forget per stirpes — but the 'bar review honeymoon' together was. Our trip afterwards was a wonderful adventure, becoming even more of a couple as we explored every corner of the British Isles."
Lisa remembered the impact two demanding work schedules had on their young married life, when both were working 80 to 90 hours a week and frequently traveling.
"At one point we went six weeks without being in the same country at the same time just because of our travel schedules. And that was challenging, most definitely," she said. "On the other hand, I think we could both be understanding when one said 'I've got to work.' I think we were fairly accommodating of each other's crazy schedules."
Like Lisa, Phil was the first lawyer in his family, and eventually — encouraged by Lisa — went back to school to get his M.B.A. at Dartmouth, where he had received his undergraduate degree, after the couple spent seven years in Washington, D.C.
"We thought we would just be in New Hampshire for the two years of b-school, but instead we put down roots, buying a 1790 farm in the country, starting a family and launching my own venture capital firm," Phil said.
On a recent trip back to Charlottesville, the Ferneaus took their kids behind the law school to a forested area to search for a memento. It was still there – their initials carved into a tree.
"We were able to show the girls the 'love tree,' as we called it," Lisa said.
Kaleb Froehlich '07 and Annie Simpson '06
He grew up in Alaska, and she was from Boston. They managed to go to college in the same state, but they didn't meet until they were both students at the University of Virginia School of Law.
But sometimes timing is everything. Kaleb Froehlich and Annie Simpson circled around each other in law school, but never quite connected.
"I sort of had a crush on him all through school," she said.
"I was always trying to participate in activities that Annie was involved in and I would go to the softball field if I knew she was going to be there," he said.
Simpson similarly found excuses to come into contact with Froehlich, who was a first year when Simpson served as an auction director for the Public Interest Law Association during her second year. When he offered a vacation at his family's condo as a prize in the auction, Simpson assigned herself to call him to gather the details. "I was nervous," she said.
At the time, Froehlich had a girlfriend, and by Simpson's third year she had started to look ahead to life after law school.
"We just didn't find ourselves in the same social circles," she said. "It was just a timing thing."
Both were high achievers throughout their lives. Simpson majored in American Studies and minored in Spanish at Stanford University, while Froehlich majored in international relations and French at the University of Southern California.
Kaleb Froehlich '07 and Annie Simpson '06 at their
Froehlich grew up around the law because his father was an Alaska District Court judge, and he decided to go to law school as well. He chose UVA because he knew he wanted to work in politics in Washington, D.C., and liked that the school was nearby.
After Stanford, Annie worked as a paralegal for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. From the start, she was part of a trial team. "I had no idea, prior to this job, what lawyers did, but having an opportunity to see what their jobs were all about and how they could actually use their work to benefit people and society was really inspiring to me," she said. "I decided I wanted to follow in their footsteps."
After law school, Simpson joined Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C., while Froehlich worked in New York for Greenberg Traurig. But their best friends were dating, so there was a chance to connect again. When Simpson attended her best friend's birthday party in December 2007, she found Froehlich at the party and they hit it off. She would be traveling to New York to work on a case, so a week after the party, he took her to Madison Square Garden for a USC basketball game.
"I was trying to pretend that I knew all about basketball," she recalled. Froehlich recalled being impressed by her sports knowledge, especially relating to his beloved USC.
They dated long distance for eight months, then he took an opportunity to move to Washington to work on Capitol Hill.
In October 2010, they traveled to New York, and happened upon the bar they reconnected at, about three years before. But it wasn't a coincidence, Simpson later learned — Froehlich had planned it as part of a proposal.
"I wasn't nervous about proposing,” Froehlich said of his plan to pop the question at their hotel room, which had a dramatic view of the city. “I was nervous I would lose the ring during the trip."
They were married in Boston in September.
"It was a great wedding," Simpson said, with "lots of friends and family from all over the world."
"Kaleb has a lot of family in Africa and they were able to fly in, which was really special."
Froehlich is now senior Republican counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, working for Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski and staying connected to his home state, while Simpson focuses on international trade at Latham.
"One thing about being married to another lawyer — he's really able to understand what I'm going through at work," she said.
"While we both maintain very busy work schedules, we learned from our time at UVA Law that balancing social life is just as important," Froehlich added.