A case of love for law students; JENNIFER IRWIN AND MARK PRATT


Mark Pratt sat behind Jennifer Irwin for a whole year in their night classes at the University of Baltimore before they struck up a conversation that didn't involve classroom matters.

But during the fall semester of 1997, the two law students finally became friends.

Early on, Mark ruled out all possibility of dating Jennifer because of the decade difference in their ages. (He is older, and he had previously sworn off such romances when age broke up a relationship he'd had with a woman seven years younger than he.)

But when Jennifer's fifth-year class reunion at Old Mill Senior High School in Glen Burnie rolled around in November 1997, a mutual law-school friend decided Mark would be the perfect escort for Jennifer and persuaded the couple to make the date.

Shortly after they arrived at the reunion site, Jennifer was completely surprised by a side of Mark's personality she had never seen before.

"In school, we're learning, not talking," she explains. But at the reunion, Mark was witty and urbane, going out of his way to strike up interesting conversations with people he'd never before met.

"He was so charming," Jennifer recalls. "I was in awe of him that night -- that he would take so much time for something that had no significance to his life. He just wowed me!"

Jennifer quickly realized that she wanted Mark to turn his interest toward her, and halfway through the evening, when he suddenly kissed her, she knew that he had. The couple stayed at the reunion until it ended and then went to a nearby nightclub with some of Jennifer's friends, staying there until it closed. Mark then drove Jennifer back to her parents' home in Abingdon, where they talked until 3 a.m.

The next evening, Mark went on a date, which he had previously scheduled, with another woman. "It was the last date I ever had with someone else," he says, laughing.

Though they had not been looking for a relationship and had not expected anything special to come of their friendship, the two lawyers-to-be realized right away that they were in love.

Jennifer and Mark each say they had been looking for someone who would be an "equal partner" in a relationship. Though they sometimes engage in passionate, lawyerly discourse, their mutual respect for one another ensures that their opinionated exchanges are never taken too far.

On May 5, 1998, Mark and Jennifer skipped the last class of the spring semester and went to dinner at Vespucci's in Annapolis. There at the restaurant, Mark got down on one knee and proposed. Jennifer -- who had not expected the proposal to come that evening -- quickly got over her surprise and answered yes.

After looking at their law-school schedule -- "Law school runs our lives," Jennifer confides -- and working around another family wedding already planned for 1999, the couple settled on January for their nuptials.

And so on Jan. 9, Mark, 34, and Jennifer, 24, were married in a civil ceremony in the Platinum Room at the Belvedere. Jennifer's mother, Marie Vasbinder, was her matron of honor, and her sister, Angela Hilz, was her only attendant. Mark's brother, Donald G. Pratt, was best man.

Jennifer's father, Stephen Vasbinder, walked her down the aisle and read a poem in honor of the marriage. Mark's parents, Barbara and Donald H. Pratt of Amesbury, Mass., sat proudly among the 100 guests.

After a honeymoon ski weekend in Killington, Vt., followed by a week in Bermuda, Jennifer and Mark moved to Mark's townhouse in North Potomac. Both will continue in law school, though they are no longer in class together.

Jennifer, a legal assistant at Venable, Baetjer and Howard in Baltimore, hopes to practice corporate law. Mark -- who was an engineer for many years before starting law school -- is a student associate at Sixbey, Friedman, Leedom and Ferguson in McLean, Va. He hopes to practice patent law.

The couple expect to graduate from law school in May 2000. Though they never expect to open their own law firm -- because of their very divergent specialties -- Jennifer and Mark plan to focus together on law and love in the years to come.

They thrive on the friendly arguments that are the hallmark of their relationship.

"It's practice" for the courtroom, quips Jennifer. And for once, she and Mark agree.

Pub Date: 01/24/99

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