Video Transcript: Transcript Kristin Trutanich Full Interview
Hi, I’m Dan Couvrette, the publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine and DivorceMag.com. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Kristin Trutanich as part of a series of interviews that I’m doing with top family lawyers across America. I’m going to talk with Kristin about her practice, what inspired her to become a family lawyer, about her background, etc. I want to mention upfront that Kristin is not your average lawyer. Kristin was a former deputy district attorney with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and she has done 70-plus jury trials involving domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, gang violence, and murder.
So, this is not your average family lawyer we’re going to be talking to. I’m very excited to talk with Kristin today. She also was assigned to the Hardcore Gang Division where she was responsible for vertically prosecuting gang members, murders, and attempted murders. Sounds like kind of a tough task to take on but Kristin did that for a while. We’ll talk about that. Today she is a partner at the firm of Gilligan Frisco and Trutanich family law firm in Long Beach, California, and Kristin, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Kristin Trutanich: Thank you, Dan.
So, let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to become a family lawyer after your work with the district attorney’s office?
After a little over 13 years with the district attorney’s office I was prosecuting some of the most violent crimes that were committed in LA County and I was looking for something more, something different in my career and I have two young kids. I did at the time and Janine Frisco my partner is the one who basically took me from the criminal field and brought me into the family law field. She was a mentor of mine 20 years ago when she was actually with the District Attorney’s office, and I was in college, and we’ve stayed in touch and Janine actually was my divorce attorney…
…when I was divorced from my first husband and so I’ve been through the process, and I really felt like if I wanted to try something in a different angle of the law, I still wanted to have that feeling of helping someone through a difficult time. I enjoyed being a district attorney because I felt like I was serving the community. I was representing the people of the state of California, and I was helping victims oftentimes through some horrific tragedies that they had in their lives that they didn’t have control over. I took that part of my career and transitioned it to family law, where I’m still helping people through some of the most difficult times of their life. I’m helping them transition to a whole new life. So, a lot of the skills and the advocacy that I enjoyed as a district attorney I’ve now taken to the family law practice, and the time that I’ve spent in a courtroom has served me well in family law and served my clients well.
You’re essentially defending society when you’re being a prosecuting attorney and now, you’re going to defend clients in your family law cases. What is it about your personality or your upbringing or your vision or whatever it might be that you think has you do that sort of work?
Well, I grew up with a father who was an attorney, and actually, for most of my life felt like that’s not what I wanted to do with my life. But then when I went to the District Attorney’s Office in college as a student worker, which is basically a nice term for the person who makes coffee and gets coffee. So, I did that for a year, but the lawyers there encouraged me to watch court in the afternoon and so I would go and watch trials. I knew at that point that I loved the judicial system. I wanted to be a part of it, and I wanted to be a litigator. So, the thrill of being in court and litigating is what took me into the law profession, and having a father who was also a district attorney that sense of serving your community has always stayed with me. And now I feel like I can do that, and I can bring maybe some peace to families who are going through a difficult time, and I liked the feeling of that. That’s a really good feeling when things go well, cases settle outside of court and people make agreements that they come together and do for the benefit of their children and their families.
And if it doesn’t then I have the skills to go to court and advocate for my clients there.
And do you think you took any characteristics or qualities that your father had and brought them into your practice when you were a prosecuting attorney or in your current practice now? Did he teach you things or did you either learn from what they do or don’t do what they do? Did you get anything from your father? I could go on for hours about my father, but this isn’t my interview.
I definitely did. I can remember what they call a baby DA when you’re new to the District Attorney’s Office running by questions. Should I ask this question? Should I not ask this question and the theories and come up with how to really strategize a case? So having his experience to pull from was just really a benefit to me. But also, he left the DA’s office. He spent about eight years in the DA’s office and left and he went into criminal defense and environmental law. Having that perspective of a criminal defense attorney also from my dad being a prosecutor is reminding me there’s justice there. Remember to see the other side, don’t be one-sided when you look at things. I think that that was great advice for me as a district attorney, but it’s also been great advice that I’ve taken with me to the family law practice because your client’s going to come to you with their side of the story. There’s always something else that maybe they don’t see, or maybe they’re not telling you. And so, I’ve got to do some investigation there and make sure that what we’re doing, the strategy we’re coming up with is the best thing, because they may not see the whole picture. And that’s my job as an attorney to look down the road and make them see what decisions they’re making now and how it’s going to affect their lives later.
Absolutely. You have to have that knowledge and that experience to be able to share that with your clients because they’re so emotionally connected to their side of the story. That you’ve got to provide that perspective to help them see a possible resolution.
And I’m wondering about outside activities. Do you volunteer your time to get kind of a break from family law to do anything else?
Well, I have…
It’s not an easiest profession, right?
No, it’s not and you definitely need an outlet. I played sports my entire life. I grew up playing all different kinds of sports, but I focused on soccer mostly and I ended up playing division one soccer through college. That experience in being an athlete has definitely prepared me for my career. Not only did learning how to multitask, knowing that I had to practice in the middle of the day in college and so I had to get my classes done and my homework done so that I could really be available and mentally available for my practices and my games. So that helped there but the competitiveness, wanting to win and striving to do your best and to be good at your skill, whatever that is if it’s being a lawyer, being a soccer player. But also, has taught me that it’s okay to win and it’s okay to lose and you’ve got to do both gracefully.
But being competitive helps me work hard and want to be better. But there’s also that team aspect. So, working in a team helps me as far as working with other lawyers, even the other side, witnesses, and knowing that you have to take on other people who have expertise sometimes in your cases to come to a resolution. You may not be the only piece of the puzzle. There might be other people that you need to rely on to bring this all together. So, I think all of those things that I learned through playing sports has really provided me with a good foundation for my career, both as a district attorney, but definitely even more so now in family law because there’s a lot more mediation and teamwork that you do in this type of law.
Right. A lot of people who are going through a divorce don’t realize that if there’s an attorney on the other side you likely know them, and you’ve likely had a case against them and it’s actually the strength of your relationship that can help bring the case to a resolution, isn’t it? Your understanding of each other.
Definitely! One of the things my dad always used to say growing up is your reputation is everything and so when people see your name, they’re going to have that instant reminder of who you are and what are they going to think about you. Do they trust you? Do they know that you’re going to be straightforward? Do they know that, hey, you’re not going to just be a pushover, you’re going to call them on what they’re trying to pull? But somebody that they can also work with, and they can come to a resolution and hope that that is my reputation in the family law field.
I’m sure it is and I’m sure you also have a good reputation with the judges as well who can certainly have an influence on how the cases go based on the attorneys that are in front of them every day or frequently. So, knowing that judge is probably very helpful in your case as well, isn’t it?
Yes. Knowing who your judge is kind of knowing what kind of ref you’re going to have. If you know, someone’s going to let you be a little more physical and play a little bit tougher or someone’s going to call every little penalty. You need to know who your judge is and what they want because you want to give the judge what they want so it makes it easy for them to make a decision. Some judges read everything, and they want it all written out. Other judges maybe want more oral arguments. So, you just need to know the judicial officers who they are and what they like, and what their background is, because when you come in and you have a lot of evidentiary rulings, and you have a judge, for example, who has done trials and really knows evidence, you know that you’re going to get those rulings if you have the right objections.
Got it. I want to go back to something earlier that you had mentioned and that is that you’ve been through your own divorce. Can you just tell me what kind of impact that had on you in terms of your ability to empathize, I guess with people who are going through a divorce? Did it give you a different perspective, do you think?
Definitely. Unfortunately, everyone kind of looks at that divorce as a failure and it can be, and it definitely can be because it is a failed relationship. But having the perspective of maybe it’s not a failure, maybe that this relationship brought you something, some aspect and brought something into your life that you needed to go on to something else in your life and you learned from that. So, I definitely believe that about my prior relationship. No one gets married thinking that they’re going to get divorced.
And even though someone may want the divorce there’s still that emotional roller coaster of mourning the end of a relationship and having been through that, I understand what my clients are saying to me when they come to me, and they want to do the divorce. They want to file, but then they’re an emotional wreck about the whole thing and they can’t think straight and make good decisions and follow my advice. I understand that more because I’ve been through it myself.
Yeah. And what do clients say about you? I’ve read a few of your references on your website with clients’ references and they say wonderful things, but what do they say to you personally? What sort of feedback do you get from your clients?
My favorite thing to hear from my clients that I often hear is after the first time I meet them and either it’s a consultation that happens in person or over the phone or on Zoom is they come into this really scared and unsure about what their future holds and at the end of our meeting, they say to me, I feel so much better. I feel so relieved. I love hearing that I can provide that peace to them in such a really emotional and scary time for them. So, that’s one of my favorite things to hear and I hear that often. But also, after court, I love when my clients leave court grinning ear to ear, and it may not be that they won because there are really not winners, I think in family law. We’re working through a situation.
You win little things here and there but the feeling that they have when they leave court and they felt like even if we didn’t get the rulings we wanted, we were out there. We were putting our case on, and they felt like I advocated for them. In the end, they’re leaving it up to a judge. They’re leaving their life up to a stranger to make the decision and that’s the hard part about litigation versus settling. But I love it when they look at me and they thought that I did a great job for them, and they feel confident in having hired me to represent them in such a difficult time.
Right. Understand. I could list about 10 reasons why I think a client would benefit from your experience, your tenacity, your competitive nature, but also your compassion and understanding for divorce because you’ve been through it yourself. Are there any other things that you can think of how a client benefits from hiring you and really, they’re hiring your firm as well? Maybe you want to mention a little bit about the firm. What would you say to that question?
You know, coming into family law, I obviously chose to leave my career in criminal to work specifically with Janine Frisco and John Gilligan.
John has a stellar reputation. He’s been working in this field for over 40 years and Janine now over 20 years and they have been such amazing mentors to me. I love their perspective because they always say children first and we have a job to represent our clients. But I take that, and I sometimes feel that our clients maybe are not thinking clearly when they come to us because they want X, Y, and Z. But at the end of the day, what they really want is their children to be happy and stable and have a consistent life so that they can really trust that their children are not going to be emotionally damaged by their emotional roller coaster of a divorce and so I take that into consideration with every case.
I have children of my own, and I really think about what would I want for them if I was to get divorced from my current husband and we had to live separate lives. What do I want from them? I always say to my clients you want your children to have a performance at school and walk off the stage happy with his performance and not have to then all of a sudden have all that happiness erased because he has to, or she has to decide which side of the room is he going to go to at the end of that performance. What parent does he or she choose? You want those parents to be sitting together or sitting on the same side of the room and everybody going up to that child and congratulating that child so that your divorce doesn’t become their burden and that’s what I’m thinking of when I’m acting on behalf of my clients.
Kristin, I don’t think your thoughts could be any better or any clearer. I’ve worked with family lawyers for 26 years, been through my own divorce, which is why I started this company and that’s exactly what you want in a lawyer. A lawyer who’s looking out into the future and having you, if you have children, you and your ex-spouse be sitting at their graduation or be at their wedding and not have it be a horrible event. So, looking into the future is what you want your family lawyer not churning things up and making your life more miserable. So, I highly recommend that you talk with Kristin. You can go to her firm’s website which is on the screen right now gftlawyers.com. Kristin, I want to thank you for your time. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you today.
Thank you so much, Dan.