Video Transcript: Transcript of Janine Frisco Full Interview
Dan Couvrette: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with family lawyer Janine Frisco – a Long Beach, California family lawyer and partner at the firm of Gilligan, Frisco, and Trutanich LLP. She has practiced law for more than 21 years and exclusively in the area of family law for the past 15 years. She has extensive experience in all areas of California family law matters, which we’re going to cover today, and her first preference is always to look for resolution to spousal, financial, and custody issues as opposed to going to court. But she’s also a staunch advocate for her clients and a relentless opponent if she has to go to court. Janine regularly litigates complex trials, acts as a mediator, and collaborates when the parties pursue collaboration. Janine, it is a real pleasure to be speaking with you today.
What inspired you to go from the DA’s office to become a family lawyer?
Janine Frisco: I went through my own divorce and custody case 25 years ago and I knew then when I was going through that, that that’s what I wanted to do.
Were you not well-represented or were you just because you went through the divorce, you thought boy people really need help and so that’s why you decided to pursue family law.
I was well represented and when I was sitting in the hallway waiting for the judge to decide on our custody case, I was sitting there with my mom and my sisters, and a friend of mine that was a deputy DA at the time. I thought, and I said to myself, you know, in the DA’s office, when you are prosecuting a case, the defendant is well, not always, but has usually done something wrong and they are taking the consequences of their actions.
Going through a divorce I didn’t think that I did anything wrong. None of us did anything wrong. It was something that we were both going through and what we thought was best for our son. I just felt so much more compassion for people out there and thought that this is your life, and your children are everything to you. I just felt that I could represent people with more compassion and empathy than most because I went through my own custody battle and I knew what it was like, and I saw what my son went through.
Can you give me a sense of what it would be like to work with you? I mean, I’m looking both from the point of view of your experience of having gone on through a divorce yourself and from all of your legal experience, it must be reassuring for clients.
I put my heart and soul in my cases, and I advocate for my client and if my client is wrong, I will tell them they’re wrong and what they’re doing, especially when they involve their children. But I believe in my clients, and I will fight for them. I don’t back down, but I also like to see people make amends and move on especially when you have children. They’re going to see each other down the road when they have grandkids and weddings, baptisms, whatever it may be.
They have to deal with the other side, and they need to learn to move past that. I am extremely compassionate. I can empathize with people. I know what it’s like. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like. I remind myself of what I went through, and I know that this is your whole life and if children are involved, your children are everything to you and your future with your assets and debts, everything can change just like that and I’m here to help people get through this process. It’s not fun but I can promise you I’ll make you laugh at least once, and I just try to help people through this. It’s a horrible time to go through. It’s awful.
Do you think you have a particular mission given that you’re just focused on family law? Is there something that you’re trying to ensure for your clients?
What I’d like to ensure with people is when they walk in my door for the first time, they’re distraught and everything’s falling apart, and they’re upset. My goal is to see them come out of that deep, dark place that they’re in and come out on the other end and they’re happy and at peace and that makes me feel better knowing that I helped them get through this time because it’s a really, really rough time for anybody to go through.
Tell me if there’s anything in your past about your upbringing or influences that you had that you think makes you well suited to being a family lawyer. Why did you fit into that niche so well, and get so many of these accolades from clients? What is it about Janine that works in the area of family law?
I grew up with a father that was a judge, and he was very well known by many, many people in law enforcement and attorneys and in the county and people loved and respected my father. He’s the one that instilled in me morals in ethics and always said to be honest and kind. With that, I deal with a lot of family law attorneys that I don’t think have those same values. I try to hold myself separate and apart from them and be different.
What do you think those values are that set you apart from other people?
I try to sit back and say well, let’s look at the other side. They’re probably going through this and they’re probably thinking what can we do to help them get through this because you’re not going to achieve or get anything by being nasty and rude and mean.
You’re committed to making things right for people because that’s what a judge would do, and they try to at least make things right. Is that what you’re up to?
Yes. Even though I represent one side I try to help my client think about what the other side is going through. I just want to open their eyes and thoughts to, well, maybe this is what’s going on over there and that’s why they did this or said that.
What about your clients talking about being in a tough state of mind? How do you help your clients keep a balance or maintain a balance or regain a balance in their life as they’re going through the case?
When I speak to my clients, I am probably 60% therapist and 40% family law attorney, sometimes 80% therapist. When I talk to my clients, I try to put them at ease and I let them know, this is not the end-all, this is just a step along the way, and you will get past this. There is an end to it.
In fact, I had a client send me an email the other day and it actually made me remember and realize the difference that we make in their lives. He said that on some of his worst days going through his divorce he thought everything was over, what’s the point. He said, he’d hear my voice or my paralegal’s voice and without realizing it, we put him at peace and let him know, you know what? We’re taking care of this for you. You don’t need to worry about it, nothing bad is going to happen. We’re watching out for you. We’re going to make sure that you get through this and you’re going to be fine at the end of the day. It’s nice to hear someone say, just hearing our voice made him feel so much better.
I get the feeling that it’s very hard to shake Janine. Not that you wouldn’t get upset, but that I’m not going to knock you out of place. I’m not going to walk over you. You’ve got not only heart, but you’ve got streetfighter in you. Do you think you have some streetfighter in you?
I’m one of seven kids and they always said I was the middle child. I was the one that had the best street smarts and I do. I have to admit, I do.
Do you think that’s a benefit when you’re a family lawyer to have some street smarts?
Absolutely. It’s mostly about common sense and the law is the law. It’s not something that’s so esoteric. It’s pretty much black or white and gray in some areas but you have to have the common sense to get through these situations.
Can you tell me in your own words how you think a client would benefit from working with you?
I’ll tell a client don’t waste your money on going to war in this situation. If you’re going to spend the money then spend it here or if you want to pick and choose your battles pick this battle don’t pick that battle. When I’m done with the case, I like to see that the other side spent more money than my client and the other thing I like to see is neither side wasted money going to court and fighting their case because nothing good comes from that. Because at the end of the day they’re still divorced, their family’s still broken up and there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole.
I don’t know how anyone can feel good about that. That doesn’t make me feel good. If they can do it without wasting their money on attorneys, I tell them all the time don’t waste your money on attorneys. Don’t waste it on us. Figure it out and try to talk to the other side and see what you can do and if you can’t, I’m here to help you through it but don’t spend your kid’s college education.
I know that you do some volunteer work. Can you tell me what you do and maybe tell me why you do it? What inspires you to do it?
I was the chair at Mater Dei for their auction committee for four years recently.
What is that organization?
We raise funds for the students at Mater Dei for their tuition and I believe 65% of those students are on a free ride or almost a free ride and we raise the money for them to have the same chance as the 35% that do have the money that can have that same education.
What does that mean to you to be involved with that organization?
I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed knowing that every student had the same chance as the next one and I’m also on the board of Orphan Children of India where we built an orphanage in India and it’s now all the way through high school.
It sounds to me like you’re trying to create a fair playing field and a fair game, not just in your practice of family law, but also in your life and other areas. You’re wanting to make it an equal opportunity for everybody. Let’s get through this and let’s have it be an equal chance that we can have a great life.
Not everyone gets the same opportunities as I had or as somebody else might have. I think everyone should have a chance and take it and run with it and see what you can do with it. I mean, everybody should have that chance.
Is that what you’re trying to do in your family law practice, you’re trying to give your clients a second chance at life?
Absolutely. I would love to see them have their second chance at love, at life, at happiness. Nothing makes me happier than to see a client come out of that deep, dark place that they’re in when they walk through my door than when they walk out and they’re smiling, they’re happy and they’ve moved past this. That makes me feel better than anything else.