John Gilligan: What drew me to the field was that I’m the oldest of eight children and when I was in high school my parents went through a bitter divorce, which I was stuck right in the middle of. I saw the effect it had not only on me but my siblings. My youngest sibling at that time was one year old. I was 17 when he was born so I saw what divorce does to a family and was drawn to the field based on that background.
I love children. Like I said, I came from a family of eight. I was the oldest and I also have five children of my own. I see the effects that a divorce has on children who are probably the most innocent victims in a divorce process. They didn’t ask to be part of a broken home. They didn’t ask to have to live in two homes to travel back and forth, to worry about which backpack is at whose house, or where their homework is. They’re invited to a birthday party, who do I check with? Do I check with mom or dad depending on who he’s with that particular night? It’s a very difficult process for children and I try to inform the parents of this right at the very outset that my goal is going to try to get this family through this transition period, a difficult transition period with a minimum impact on the children.
That’s pretty much the general goal that I have in mind in every divorce case with children. If they don’t have children, if it’s just assets it’s a lot easier. But if there are children involved, I try to put the emphasis on them. Even though I don’t represent them I do want to make the divorce process as minimally impactful on them as possible.
I live and breathe family law, Dan. It’s just part of my life. From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, I’m thinking about it. I work on the weekends. I donate my time to abuse women’s shelters. We have our annual Christmas collect toys for kids day that we had at our office last Saturday and I just live and breathe family law. It’s just part of my DNA.
I sit on the Family Law Executive Committee which is the committee that recommends legislation to our capital in Sacramento. I just chaired the Child Custody Colloquium which is the largest Child Custody Colloquium in the state of California. We did that in October. I chaired a panel and I also brought in the top family law attorneys and judges in this state to lecture at that symposium. So, we started that process in June and we put it on in October. It’s a long and involved process to put on that colloquium.
I am also a mediator where I donate my time to the court system to try to settle cases. I sit as judge pro tem at least once a month in Family Law Court when judges have to take vacations so that we can keep the system moving so we don’t back up the cases so they can flow smoothly and quickly through the system. Every part of my life has something to do with family law.
I like to take on the cases that are difficult, and that is high conflict. My personality is such that I think I’m able to calm people down. It’s a field where people can get very high in emotion, and I think that just listening to people really helps them. It’s just a good way of settling things down and calming things because when people are calm that’s when we can get to work and try to get it settled. That’s my goal is to settle as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible, and get them on with their lives. I always say to my clients would you rather put your kids through college, or would you rather put my kids through college?
Most parents want to keep as much money from their marital estate that they have accumulated over the years in their own pocket as opposed to some lawyer’s pocket and I try to strive for that every step of the way.
It’s invaluable to have that experience because even though I charge probably on the higher end of the hourly rates of family law lawyers in my legal community, I don’t need to look things up because I already know them. There’s really not a situation that I have not seen either in handling it as a lawyer or see when I sit as judge pro tem or in my mediations.
I could pretty much tell the parties when they first come into the office what’s going to happen in their case based upon the facts that they’re presenting to me, I’m very seldom surprised by rulings. Now, obviously, a person has a right to go to court and if that person elects to go to court, I’ll fight like hell for them in court, but it’s always the better outcome if we can resolve the issues based upon the knowledge that I have because I already know what the outcome’s going to be with a pretty high degree of certainty.
That usually facilitates settlement. I settle probably 90% of my cases for that reason.
I’m not wishy-washy. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. I’m going to tell them directly what I think should be done. It’s up to them whether they want to take my advice, but at the end of the day, I think most times they realize that advice was correct.
That might have been my brother or somebody who said that.