Interviewed by: Kenny Matuszewski
Since the beginning of their legal careers, the Formellers have been a famous family. Christina, Kathryn (“Kat”), and Matthew (“Matt”) Formeller are triplets who were featured on NBC Chicago, the ABA Journal and Above the Law when they simultaneously graduated from DePaul University College of Law (“DePaul”) in 2010. Due to this viral fame, the first question the triplets receive whenever they meet someone is what it was like to grow as triplets. The siblings’ answer is simple: they have known no other way. Matt sometimes flips the question on its head by asking others what it was like to have siblings of different ages. But this does not bother them. Growing up, the triplets were often considered expressions of the same person, which led to perfect harmony.
The Formeller triplets also took comfort in the fact that they would never have a first day of school without each other at every stage in their educational journey, whether it was DePaul for law school, Illinois Wesleyan University for college, or Loyola Academy for high school. During college, Christina and Kathryn were even in the same sorority!
Large families are not outside the norm in the Formeller family, because Daniel Formeller, the triplets’ father, is the oldest of six children. The first in in his family to attend college and law school, Daniel knew how important it was to set an example for his family, both directly and indirectly. At first, Daniel thought about going to law school outside Illinois, but that all changed once he visited DePaul. DePaul was an incredibly welcoming campus that gave him the foundation to succeed in private practice. While all four of the Formeller family attorneys went to the same law school, Daniel emphasized that he did not influence their decisions to go to law school. Instead, he let his children make their own career choices, even though he thought and hoped Christina would become a lawyer.
While Christina knew she wanted to go to law school since she was a child, Kat and Matt did not want to go to law school at first. They both studied business in college, and Matt thought about going to business school after graduation. But, in his junior year of college, Matt realized he was unsure of his career path. So, he decided to explore the intersection of law and business by attending law school. Kat’s decision was based on the economy at the time and thought that a legal career would be worth exploring. The triplets chose to continue the family tradition of attending DePaul because their father told them about the school’s reputation, and they wanted to stay together by attending a law school close to home.
Coming out of law school at the height of the recession, the triplets faced a challenging job market and start to their careers. Kat started as an Associate at Tressler, the firm her father founded and the firm she worked at for two years during law school. While Kat got her dream job, she faced other challenges once she began practicing. Some of her colleagues at the firm thought she received unfair treatment, because she was Daniel’s daughter. Other partners had known Kat since she was a child, so she had to change their perceptions of her.
The reality was that Kat completed the traditional and formal hiring process at Tressler. In fact, Daniel did not know Kat even interviewed for her position until she was deep in the interview process. While he knew that Kat was interested in working at Tressler since she was a summer law clerk, he never had any say in the process. At the firm, the two abide by the rule that they cannot and do not work directly together on any matters or in the same practice group. As a result, Kat started her career by practicing insurance defense. Later, she pivoted to working with homeowner associations. Through her hard work, skill, and dedication, Kat earned her colleagues’ trust. She has stayed at Tressler her entire career, and ultimately made partner there. The firm is a perfect fit for Kat, since she has found her niche, enjoys her practice area, and appreciates the firm’s size.
Christina and Matt, on the other hand, never intended to follow their sister’s path after graduation. While they both briefly worked at Tressler as law clerks, they later left the firm to work at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Matt also served as a judicial extern for Justice Reyes. Coming out of school, Christina knew she always wanted to own her own firm. Matt agreed to help support her and serve as her partner. The pair soon realized that law school did not teach students how to run a business, so they figured out how to work together, find clients, learn substantive areas of the law, and run a business all on their own. While Daniel gave Christina and Matt some advice along the way, he never told them what to do or who to be. Rather, he let them find their own paths and own way together.
While the triplets ultimately took different paths, they spent part of their childhood at Tressler. Firm events, such as picnics and holiday parties, were family-oriented, so families were encouraged to attend. This allowed the triplets to become closer with their father. Apart from firm events, Christina, Kat and Matt accompanied their dad to the office every Saturday. While Daniel worked on Saturdays, he used the commute back and forth from the downtown office to their home in the northern suburbs to bond with his children. He did this to give his wife Ann some personal time, since she handled a lot of the childcare during the work week.
Daniel admits that he was not as present in his family’s life when the triplets were growing up due to the demands of his work schedule. He also admits that he could and should be criticized for that. Because their father was not always home, Christina and Matt were committed to striking it out on their own, which made them want to start their own law firm. Daniel realizes they developed their independence and business acumen at a much younger age than he did, which he commends.
At Formeller & Formeller, Christina and Matt started as commercial litigators, taking on any case for exposure and experience. While they liked litigating, Matt and Christina ultimately did not find it fulfilling, because it was a drain on the firm’s limited resources. As a result, they scaled back their commercial litigation practice, and decided only to take on breach of contract, fraud, and breach of duty cases. The duo soon pivoted to becoming transactional attorneys and found their background in commercial litigation helped them identify problems in their clients’ contracts.
The transition worked so well for Christina and Matt that most of their work now focuses on commercial transactions. They represent business owners and startups as outside general counsel, handle joint ventures, and complex mergers and acquisitions. While thirty percent of their practice is still commercial litigation, that work is limited in scope. Christina and Matt also play to each other’s strengths. Matt is the greater risktaker of the two partners, while Christina is more intuitive and risk averse. Matt also manages the business, which allows Christina to focus on substantive legal work.
Like her siblings, Kat started out in litigation, which she enjoyed, because she was able to think on her feet. However, after the birth of her first child and her practice group chairs left the firm, Kat realized she wanted a change. That change was focusing her practice in transactional work. While she enjoyed being in court, Kat appreciates that she no longer has to have court compete with family time.
As the Formellers’ practices have developed over the years, they have also learned from each other. For example, Christina has always admired her dad’s approach to the profession and goes to both him and Kat if she ever needs advice. They are comfortable calling each other for advice and find their family relationship allows for franker conversations.
Kat learned the importance of reputation and the Formeller legacy. After she got married, she did not change her name. Kat has found the Formeller name to be helpful in court, because opposing counsel and judges ask if she is related to her father or if she is Matt and Christina’s sibling. This allows her to establish a personal connection with her colleagues. Kat also kept the Formeller name because she admires her dad. When she needs to figure out the best course of action, she will ask him would do.
When asked which member of his family he found most influential in his life, Daniel found that it was his father. Daniel’s father did not have a complete formal education, but he was smart and valued education. Daniel also recalls that while his father was stern and set high standards for him, his father supported him no matter what. Ann, his wife, became his rock soon after they were married. While she was not always interested in his work, she was always interested in Daniel. No matter what, she supported her husband’s work schedule, and did what was necessary to support the family.
Similar to Daniel, Matt is thankful for his wife’s support. While he has found it difficult at times to balance starting a firm while juggling his personal and family life, which now includes three children, they also have Christina and Kat. The family has become so close over the years that Matt’s wife, who talks to Christina every day, is considered the new triplet.
Overall, Christina thinks Matt is the most important person in her family, due to their sibling dynamic and business relationship. They do not have to hide when they are angry or disappointed in each other. According to Christina, stress and resentment are two surefire ways to burn out in the legal profession. Their relationship prevents those elements from building.
When asked what families should consider if they want to work together, Daniel said that there is a balancing act with both work and family. Whether families are able to work together depends on the individual family’s strength, and if they can withstand volatility and stress. When the family relationship is strong and natural, then they will be successful in the workplace. Otherwise, family should reconsider working together. Most of the other challenges come from outside perceptions, according to Daniel.
Ultimately, Christina considers values to be of the utmost importance, since people operate differently. While she and Matt have found it easy to work with each other because they are siblings, because they are so close, they have to keep each other accountable. Christina has found that when employees are not related, it is easier to address each more formally on a daily basis and establish certain structures for feedback and accountability.
Kat considers her coworkers at Tressler her friends and family. She finds that people are the key to finding a fulfilling career, because it is easier to love your work when you love your coworkers. Matt also agrees with his sisters and finds that life is too short to not work with people who bring out the best in you.
Daniel most values a willingness to hold each other accountable, honesty, and emotional support. When he started practicing, the profession encouraged associates to admit mistakes, take risks, and ask for help. Daniel finds that is missing now, since the legal profession has become metrics based. This, in turn, has only decreased accountability and respect for one another. He hopes this deemphasis of the intangibles will only be temporary, because the profession has suffered without it.
The Formellers, particularly the triplets, are a great example of how the intangibles can have a tangible impact in the practice of law. By fully trusting, loving, and respecting one another, the family has been able to achieve success at greater heights than they otherwise would have alone. While they may no longer be expressions of the same person, the Formellers are still in perfect harmony.
Christina Formeller is a founding partner of her firm. Her practice focuses on commercial litigation and serving as Outside General Counsel to a number of F&F’s corporate clients. To date, Christina has successfully tried several cases in the State of Illinois. In her role as corporate counsel, Christina advises and assists clients with day-to-day legal matters including operational issues, best practices, commercial contracts, and risk management.
Since founding Formeller & Formeller LLP in 2011, Matthew Formeller has represented a diverse range of clients in both transactional and litigation matters. In his transactional practice, Matt focuses on startup formation and complex transactions. He has assisted a number of founders and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries with the foundation of their businesses. Additionally, Matt has experience negotiating and facilitating the restructuring, purchases, and sale of businesses and assets, equity transactions, and licenses for Intellectual Property. Matt has represented numerous clients in all stages of commercial litigation matters ranging from breach of contract claims to breach of fiduciary duty claims and disputes over equity ownership.
Kathryn Formeller is a partner at Tressler LLP and Co-Chair of the Condominium & Common Interest Community Association Law Practice. Her practice includes representing condominium associations and common interest community associations in a variety of areas. Kat also practices in the areas of insurance coverage analysis and litigation as well as commercial litigation.
Daniel Formeller is Chairman of Tressler LLP. As a trial lawyer, Dan focuses his practice on business litigation and the resolution of business disputes through mediation and arbitration. Dan handles a wide variety of complex business litigation and counseling, including intellectual property, state and federal securities actions, anti-trust, ERISA, class actions, and directors and officers liability matters. He has been lead trial counsel in bench and jury trials in state and federal courts throughout the United States.