Kelly O'Connor and Jon Sandler
Among the late night studying, brief writing and competition for clerkships and internships, it’s hard to imagine that love can thrive at law school.
But in honor of Valentine’s Day, two married couples who met as students shared their love stories.
As 1L students, Kelly O’Connor and Jon Sandler had lockers near each other and even got into a heated debate in Professor Mark Weiner’s professional responsibility class, but it wasn’t until they worked together on voting rights case for the Constitutional Rights Clinic their second year that the two law students noticed each other.
“We connected, we became very friendly,” said Jon Sandler. “She definitely caught my eye. She seemed so well put together and mature.”
“He was so cute,” recalled Kelly. “He’s really funny and one of the nicest people.”
But they were each dating other people until winter of their second year, when they became single and ended up at the same Valentine’s Day party in 2005. “It became apparent something was going on with us,” recalled Sandler. “We became exclusive very quickly.”
O’Connor and Sandler got engaged during their third year of law school, graduated in 2006, went on different clerkships, and got married over Labor Day, a year after graduation.
Since 2007, Jon Sandler has worked in commercial litigation at Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland Perretti and Kelly Sandler has worked as a prosecutor, first in Essex County and now at the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office. They are the parents of two girls.
“We talk about work a ton,” he said. “It’s nice to have someone who understands the hours can be crazy and the work demanding.”
Kelly had this advice for other law school couples, “You have to talk about everything. . . Keep things separate if you don’t like to do those things together. She said she knows this from experience: though she and her future husband were living together during bar prep, they decided it would be best if they took separate cars to the exam.
Jon said he thinks back fondly to his years at Rutgers Law School and still enjoys a close circle of friends he made there, “It was such a great mix of people. They got the cream of the crop of students.”
Jerry Santer and Courtney Johnson
Courtney Johnson and Jerry Santer met as undergraduates at Rutgers University in New Brunswick when they were both part of the Greek system and were already a steady couple when they applied to law school a year later.
“Rutgers was the only school we both applied to,” said Santer, adding that they each were part of the Minority Student Program, when they enrolled in 2012 and were placed in the same track. “When we first began classes, we didn’t want everyone to know that we were a couple so we sat apart and, like everyone else, tried to survive cold calls,” recalled Johnson.
The couple admits they had a good-natured competitiveness in law school. “We would joke, ‘I did a better job on this cold call than you did and argue about it,’ “ Santer said.
Though they lived together during law school, they had different experiences. Johnson went to South Africa and became an Eagleton Fellow. They both took part in summer internships and after graduation, they studied for the bar exam and each clerked in Morristown.
Once their law school colleagues found out they were dating, the couple were nicknamed “Barack and Michelle” and friends predicted Jerry would propose to Courtney at law school graduation in May 2015. But he waited until December to pop the question and the couple got married in November of 2016.
"It’s great being married to another lawyer,” said Courtney, who kept her name and added her husband's. "He gets it, the challenges of clerking, adjusting as a first year associate, etc. And although we’re both lawyers, we practice in different areas so it’s interesting to hear about his day.”
Courtney works for McElroy Deutsch Mulvaney & Carpenter in commercial litigation and Jerry works for Connell Foley in Roseland, doing aviation and environmental defense work.
The couple had this advice for other law school sweethearts. Courtney said, “While the study and practice of law are demanding, be sure to make time for the ones you love.” And Jerry agreed, “If you have someone you care about and want to be with after law school, make sure you keep them close to your heart.”