Haley Freeman 2013-12-27 11:30:46
When Frank Fanning earned his undergraduate degree in psychology, he envisioned himself working as a high school or college counselor. He took a position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a student activities director on the Navajo reservation. During that time, he also earned his master’s degree in education. “One thing that frustrated me was that we had numerous legal issues, and our administration didn’t know how to handle them. They didn’t have access to good legal advice. I became interested in going to law school with the idea of working in school administration, since I would have the background to deal with those issues.” Fanning attended law school at Arizona State University. After graduation, he went on to work as a law clerk for Justice William A. Holohan. “It was a position of honor,” Fanning said,” giving me the chance to see the workings of the appellate court from the inside. I talked directly to the judge and got a lot of advice and direction from him.” Fanning then worked as an associate attorney with his mentor, Carl Divelbiss. “He had been practicing for 40 years,” he said. “He took me by the hand and walked me through the process. He introduced me to people. He taught me what I had to do to file a law suit and how to find records. In two years, I learned the nuts and bolts of practicing law.” Eventually, Fanning struck out on his own. He began with a general litigation practice. “When I first started my practice, I handled divorce and personal injury cases, since those are the most common problems that people have,” Fanning said. Fanning’s first love of counseling manifested itself early in his legal career. “I started in juvenile and family law partly because I was fascinated by the emotional side of it. I found that these areas of practice don’t involve a lot of legal analysis. Most of the work involves understanding the facts, the relationships and a lot of details that a judge may or may not consider important.” Then a man who had recently been fired from his job came to him for help. “I had just read about a case from the Supreme Court a few weeks before. The facts of his case were very similar. I decided to take his case. It was my first employment case. When we went to trial, the employer couldn’t believe he had done anything wrong. We prevailed on appeal and received a published decision. That was really when I became an employment lawyer.” “In employment law, you have the emotional dynamic, but you also have the academic challenge of keeping up with the changes in the law and what the courts have said in the latest cases. I like that combination,” Fanning said. “I feel like my experience often allows me to point things out to people about their situation that they may not see. I may have seen it many other times with other clients, but they’ve never experienced it before. I try to help my clients analyze their circumstances. We talk about human nature and why these things are happening to them. I enjoy dealing with those kinds of things. I feel a lot of satisfaction when someone else feels understood.” Fanning prides himself on his time management. “I try to be generous with my time. If someone comes in for a consultation and it takes more time than I scheduled for, I don’t want to just stop them and tell them their time is up. This area of law requires that I fully understand a lot of details. I can’t get those in only 15 or 20 minutes with a client. Sometimes what people need most is a chance to discuss things and try to understand their circumstances.” Fanning commonly represents employees in labor disputes. His job often requires that he take the time to “educate or reeducate clients. I explain the law where their understanding is limited. I try to put things in fairly straightforward terms and explain why the law is the way it is, particularly when someone has a faulty perception of the law. Clients should participate in most decisions about their cases.” Fanning understands that his clients are often in distressed financial circumstances, and he tries to keep his overhead to a minimum so that clients can afford representation. “I have figured out how to charge fees people can afford and still make a living. People occasionally come to me after starting a case with a non-lawyer’s assistance. Most employment cases are too complicated for do-it-yourself, but I encourage clients to do some things themselves, such as filing charges of discrimination, unfair labor practices or small wage claims.” In his many years of practice, Fanning has observed several areas where the law still does not adequately protect workers. “Sexual orientation is one of them. It is an area where people have been lobbying for a long time. Another is workplace bullying. It happens a lot, and there is no particular law that prohibits it. A co-worker or boss can make someone’s life miserable. I would like to see clearer laws in these areas, so that lawyers like me don’t have to take these cases and try to fit them into one of the existing categories of prohibited conduct.” Fanning attributes his success to his determination and patience coupled with the support he has received from his wife for over 40 years. They share three sons, and his family has helped him to achieve the balance that is necessary for maintaining a successful legal practice. Fanning also loves music. “I sing with the Phoenix Symphony Chorus, sing and play bells in church, play guitar in a classic rock band and write original compositions. When you go to seminars about how to survive the practice of law, one of things they emphasize is that you have a life outside of the law.” Fanning’s interest in helping people is the driving force behind his practice. “I have always tried to give people personalized service. I like to know who my clients are. I get a fair number of referrals from other employment lawyers. It is a complex area of law. I want to be known as an experienced employment attorney who welcomes the challenges, but I also want people to feel comfortable referring a family member or friend to me because they know that I will treat them with compassion.”
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