Our attorney, Gary J. Frank, was recently interviewed in connection with a student project at Arizona State University. So that you can get to know Gary better, we have included excerpts from that interview.”
To find out more about Gary Frank, read his profile.
- How long have you been employed by your law firm; for what length of time have you held your current position; and what does your practice consist of? I have owned my own law firm, Gary J. Frank, P.C., since 1982. We focus 100% on Family Law matters. Of course, that’s a very broad range of issues. It includes almost everything that affects families and children.
- What are some examples of the types of cases that your firm handles? We represent people in divorce; custody; visitation/parenting-time disputes; paternity cases; grandparents’ rights; step-parent and non-parent custody and visitation; Inter-state custody, visitation, and support problems; division of property and businesses; emergency matters; modification of custody and other orders; relocation/move-away cases; spousal maintenance and child support matters; domestic violence and Orders of Protection; dependency and child abuse cases; enforcement actions (where a person is seeking to enforce a court order), and other matters. It also includes Mediation. In addition to being a litigator, I have also acted as a trained Professional Family Mediator for many years.
- Did you always want to be an attorney? Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the idea of being a strong advocate and fighting for people who need help. It was my goal, since elementary school, to become an attorney; and I always wanted to work for myself.
- What are the major responsibilities of your position? What are the specific duties performed? How do you spend 80% of your day/week? As a Family Law attorney, it is my job to represent the interests of my client in divorce, custody, and other Family Law matters. I also act as a Mediator. I help clients dissolve their marriages, protect the best interests of their children, and divide their assets and debts. I help grandparents, step-parents and others to maintain a meaningful relationship with the children they love. And I help parents protect their kids from adults and others who are a bad influence or might hurt them. Most of all, I consider myself to be a children’s advocate. I fight hard to protect the interests of children. My job duties include appearing in court on behalf of clients, drafting legal motions to file with the court, taking depositions, communicating by letter and email, conducting meetings and interviews, performing legal research, reviewing financial documents, interviewing clients, talking to attorneys, and working with CPA’s, psychologists, and other experts. My day is varied, with no two days being exactly alike. The largest percentage of my work-week consists of writing letters, talking on the telephone, reviewing emails, meeting with clients, drafting motions, reviewing financial records, and preparing for depositions and court hearings – not the kind of stuff you see on TV shows or in movies.
- Do you have a “profile” of the ideal attorney? In my opinion, there is no “ideal” attorney. Each person has his or her own unique strengths that he or she brings to the job. In hiring an attorney, I would look for someone with honesty and integrity; someone with a good work ethic, who is persuasive and communicates well, both verbally and in writing; someone who is empathetic, with excellent people-skills and a passion for helping others and practicing law.
- What are some of the different kinds of organizations that employ people in this occupation? As a lawyer, you have a wide range of options: you can work for large, medium, and small firms, or you can go into practice as a sole practitioner. You can work as a government attorney, or you can be an in-house counsel to a corporation. Many attorneys don’t practice law at all but, rather, use their legal skills as businessmen and women.
- What skills are most important for this kind of work? Since the practice of law is so varied, there is room for many different skills and personality-types. For instance, “transactional” attorneys and tax attorneys draft contracts or work with business books and records. For this type of practice, one must be very precise. A skill in working with numbers is useful, and the ability to write clearly and concisely. A trial attorney needs to be able to communicate, to persuade, to tell a story. A “rainmaker” in a law firm must be have great people skills . . . There are as many skill-sets as there are types of legal practices. I was an English major in college, and I have found that putting together a persuasive oral argument, “painting a picture” with words, and producing excellent written work will go a long way in convincing a judge of the fairness of your position. Overall, I find that the most important skills for a lawyer are the ability to think logically, write well, be persuasive, and care about people.
- What are the educational requirements for this career? To be a lawyer, you need a four-year college degree, and three years of law school. Then, of course, you need to pass the Bar Exam.
- What would be the expected progression of positions if one were to enter this field and make it a career? There is a wide variance in career paths and salary scales in law. Some students come out of law school and go to work for large or multi-national law firms. In these firms, you must start as an associate and work your way up to junior partner, partner, and finally senior partner. Others choose to work for medium or small firms, hoping to eventually become a partner with their name on the letterhead. Still others choose to become government attorneys, working for the public defender, the county attorney’s office, the attorney general, or another agency, sometimes at much lower salaries. My goal was always to work for myself, so that I could choose my clients and control my own caseload. I became a Family lawyer because I like working with people, and I care deeply about children and families. The most important thing is to find your area of interest and follow it, regardless of the income level. I know many, many lawyers in high-paid positions who hate their jobs. You’ve gotta love what you do!
- What are the time demands that accompany this type of work? If you want to be an attorney, you’d better be prepared to work. As with any executive-type job, it is likely that you will work long hours, and weekends, too. Lawyers working in firms usually have a billable-hour requirement (between 2000 and 2400 hours per year). For many lawyers, especially sole practitioners, your income depends upon the number of hours you work. The more you work, the more you can make. I learned that early in my career. That’s why I decided open my own law firm. By doing this, I was able to control my hours, and my caseload. By limiting the number of cases I accepted, I was able to really focus on the client’s matter and give each client the attention that she/he needed and deserved. I adjusted my work schedule to be able to be home for dinner, and to be an active, involved husband and father. Many, many nights I brought files home and worked after the kids went to sleep, but I always made sure to be there for them during their waking hours, to attend their school activities and doctor appointments, to get to know their friends, to coach their sports teams, and to spend plenty of one-on-one time with each of them. (Why would someone choose to practice Family Law but not care enough to be the best husband and father to his own family?) As a lawyer, I have been able to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, put my children through college, and develop friendships with many of my clients. I don’t miss the mansion on Camelback Mountain.
- Would work in this field be likely to exert any impact on one’s health? Good question. Being a lawyer could definitely affect your health, if you let it. The rate of alcoholism among lawyers is high, from what I’ve heard (and seen). But I that’s the case with many careers. I’m sure there are a lot of realtors, developers, and bankers walking around with ulcers and other health problems. The key is to learn how to manage stress. And loving your job helps, too. I work hard and take my job seriously. I’m passionate about helping my clients and being a strong advocate for them. I truly love what I do for a living. And in addition to work, I also “have a life” and plenty of friends and hobbies. So, along with the stress of being a lawyer, there’s also great satisfaction – and even (dare I say) fun!
- Is there a prevalent lifestyle among people engaged in this career? No. There are couch potatoes and exercise addicts. It runs the gamut. Probably because the practice of law is so varied. I will say, though, that I have met a great many lawyers who are also artists, musicians, authors, pilots, athletes, volunteers, philanthropists, etc. There are many amazingly talented, energetic, caring people in my profession.
- Are there internships, part-time, and/or volunteer work related to this position that you would recommend? There are many opportunities for a young person to work in the legal field. For those in law school, there are internships and part-time research jobs with lawyers and law firms, and with the county attorney and public defender. For college students, there are opportunities to work in free-clinics and other programs that provide legal services to the poor. This can be truly fascinating work. You can see a side of life that you never knew existed. You can also see how the wheels of justice work (and how slowly they sometimes turn).
- What prompted you to become an attorney? When I was a kid, I was fascinated by a TV show called “Perry Mason.” It was a show about a very tough defense attorney. Every week, he took on a new case defending an innocent person accused of murder. Through his skillful cross-examination and power of persuasion, his clients were always acquitted. At the end of each show, the guilty party, seated in the back of the courtroom, stood up and tearfully admitted that he (or she) was the real murderer. I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to defend the innocent and get them off the hook. During my first year in law school, I interned at the Orange County Public Defender’s Office. My first interview was of an enormously large, sweaty, foul-mouthed, gang member with a swastika tattooed on his arm, who had “allegedly” hit a guy over the head with a lead pipe. Halfway through the interview, I had the distinct impression that he wasn’t innocent . . . and that I wasn’t Perry Mason. In the end, I found that although I loved the law, maybe I wouldn’t love being a defense attorney. (However, I’m glad that there are dedicated lawyers out there who are willing to do that job, and do it well. Our freedom as Americans largely depends on it.)
- What is your approach to handling cases? I believe that it is the job of an attorney to work with the client as part of a team approach. Too many attorneys have a “give me the ball and I’ll run with it” philosophy, and they fail to communicate with the client during the course of the case. I take a completely different approach. I work for the client and with the client. Each client has my personal cell phone number so that she/he can reach me if an emergency arises. After all, it is the client’s case. It’s his/her life – and it’s a matter of great importance. My job, as the legal expert, is to communicate with my client, help determine the proper objectives, formulate a game-plan, and work hard to make sure that the client’s needs are effectively met. I will sit down with the client, at various stages of the proceeding, and discuss our goals and our options. The client and I will work together to select the best option, and then we will work as a team to reach our goal. I have found that when a client and attorney are “on the same page” it gives you the best chance for success. I care about my clients and I am a strong and committed advocate on their behalf.
- That seems like a unique approach. How did you develop it? During the thirty years that I have been practicing Family Law, I have had the opportunity to experience the process from both sides of the bench. After being a Courtroom Litigator for more than a decade, I was selected to become a Judge Pro Tem. In that capacity, I was able to fill in for Superior Court judges on a part-time, as-needed basis. Sitting on the “bench” and making decisions in Family Law cases allowed me to see things from a judge’s perspective. This was an invaluable experience, and it helped to make me a better lawyer. Becoming a professional Mediator made me realize that even in the midst of a hotly contested dispute, there are still opportunities to find a creative and peaceful settlement. When I was growing up, my mother always stressed empathy and compassion, and my father taught us to make the best use of logic, preparation, persuasiveness, and mental-toughness. I was taught, by both of my parents, to be willing to stand up and fight for my rights, and the rights of others. These are all skills that I bring to the table when representing a client in a Family Court case. I understand that my client is going through what is probably the most difficult and stressful time in her or his life. I care. And I know that the client needs a strong advocate – someone who will look for logical, peaceful solutions but will also be willing to aggressively fight for his/her rights if that becomes necessary.
- What do you like best about your job? I enjoy the fact that, in my Family Law practice, every day is different. I may be in a settlement meeting one day, pouring over real estate documents or financial statements the next, and walking into court to conduct a trial the following day. I love the interaction with clients, and dealing with experts. I love researching legal issues; drafting motions; preparing a case for trial. I love searching for, and finding, a peaceful resolution that will save my client money and avoid stress. I also love stepping into the courtroom; taking down a hostile-witness with a well-prepared cross-examination; sparring with opposing counsel; and persuading the judge with a logical and rock-solid argument. Most of all, I love being a strong advocate for someone who is in need of a champion.