Video Transcript: Transcript of Michael Sarris Full Interview
Dan Couvrette: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Michael Sarris, a family lawyer in Long Beach, California. Michael is a board-certified family lawyer, and we’re going to be talking about his practice today.
How long have you been practicing in the area of family law?
Michael Sarris: As of 1995, I was a corporate attorney. I practiced corporate law, securities law, and banking law. Then I got my MBA and I practiced mergers and acquisitions in Wall Street and that was back in New York. After that, I came back to LA. Somebody approached me needing help. His children were taken from Greece and brought to the United States. I am from Greece. He wanted a native speaker and he said, “I want you to help me get my children back.” I enjoyed that experience. It was intense. It was very personal, unlike my corporate background where you deal with a lot of transactions and it’s all impersonal. This was the other end of the spectrum. It was super personal and that’s what attracted me to family law.
Family law is also a variety of situations and the cases are all different. Was that part of the attraction as well, the diversity of things?
You meet somebody and within half an hour, in front of your eyes, they just explain to you the last 30 years of their life.
They trust you. They want you to help them and they put their faith in your hands. That iis very emotionally rewarding and it gives me a great sense of responsibility. I respond to that, and I just make it my mission to help them get out of. That’s what keeps me going.
Do you focus your practice in any particular area in family law?
I cover all aspects of family law. Because I have a financial background and I have an MBA from a good university, people come to me a lot about assets and valuations and appraisals. I help them split their assets and their obligations because they trust that I understand numbers and I think that’s an extra asset for me. I’m very good with numbers. I enjoy numbers and on the property side, I’m super comfortable working with forensic accountants, and appraisers and helping our clients get the most they can out of a divorce.
I know that you’re from Greece, but I also noticed that you also were educated in England as well. Am I correct with that?
Yes. I have a master’s in law from the University of London. It was a very enjoyable experience back in. It was also great to have lived in London at the beginning of my professional life and career because it’s just a great city, as is New York, where I have my MBA from Columbia University. Having been able to live in London, New York, and Los AngelesI is a pretty good amount of international cities to be exposed to the world.
How do you think that international experience informs you as a family lawyer? It must give you a different perspective than somebody who’s just born and raised in America. You have a slightly different perspective.
It just makes you comfortable with all sorts of people because I have clients from Europe, I have clients from the United States, I have clients from Asia. Because I’ve lived in different places it’s easy for me to feel comfortable and make the other side feel comfortable with me.
It sounds like it would be great to work with you. But in your own words, can you describe what it is like to work with you?
My principal belief in family law is that we could settle your case. I do settle 80% of my cases, which is a very high number, and the reason is that it is the right thing to do for your client. The ethical thing to do for your client is to keep him out of court as much as you can and just get him a good result where he is comfortable himself, because when you sign a settlement agreement, you’re okay with it. You’re not in front of a judge waiting for the decision. You’re signing a contract and you say, I can live with that. I like that.
I bring that into my cases from the very beginning. I tell my clients I settle a lot of my cases. I’m going to try to settle your case. If I don’t settle the whole case, I’m going to settle a big chunk of your case and if you believe in that and you want to come along, I’ll be happy to be your attorney. Most of my clients really appreciate that approach because they realize it’s the ethical approach. It’s the right thing to do and it’s an approach where it’s going to help them through a very difficult phase of their life by having control of the situation versus going to court all the time not knowing what the judge is going to decide and being nervous about the outcome of the case and how expensive it’s going to be. My approach does away with a lot of these uncertainties which is the reason you see the reviews you see on the internet for me.
I don’t have to tell you or tell people who are perhaps watching this that divorce is a challenging time and emotions often get the better of people. What do you do to help them maintain a balance in terms of how they’re looking at their divorce?
It is a very difficult time and that’s why it’s important to establish a relationship of trust and respect from the very beginning. Because if your client understands and verifies that you have their best interest at heart from the very beginning and you want to get them on the other side of town in a safe and expeditious way, they will trust you. They will say “fine, I’m not going to do it because I believe in what you’re saying.” I set the parameters from the beginning, and it works out well.
Family law is very stressful because you have to absorb a lot of problems from a lot of people without internalizing them. You have to solve them and there’s no end to it because that’s your everyday work. Therefore, you have to be a happy person, a calm person and have a very balanced life. When you come to the office, you’re like, okay, I’m just going to take care of these things today because I can and that’s why I think it’s important to have a balanced life outside the office.
I know you’ve touched on this in a couple of ways already, but I want to ask you, how do you think a client will benefit from working with you?
The client will benefit if he or she believes in my philosophy, which is let’s try to settle your case on acceptable terms. Let’s try to finish way sooner than we would otherwise finish. If we go to court every single time and if they believe in what I believe they will definitely benefit because it’s going to save them a lot of stress. It’s going to save them a lot of time and it’s going to protect their children and their wallet at the end of the day and every little thing matters when you’re in that chaos which is called divorce. If they sign up with my approach which is not confrontational unless they really put us against the wall and they want to be unfair to us, then I think they’ll benefit greatly, and I have a lot of happy clients because they follow what I believe.