First-String Attorney

Craig Frankel channels Itzak Perlman for the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra

Published in 2009 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2009

Forget about arguing some high-stakes case before a demanding judge and skeptical jury. The most terrifying moment in Craig Frankel's life came when he was a 13-year-old violinist auditioning for the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra before legendary conductor Robert Shaw.

"I was out there all alone," says Frankel, a founding partner of Gaslowitz Frankel in Atlanta, "and I'd never played for such [illustrious] people. I'd never even been on stage before."

He somehow managed to get through the audition, made the orchestra and has been performing ever since. Today, he is assistant concertmaster of the 80-member Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra, shoehorning his avocation in among his duties as civil litigator and father of three, as well as civic and synagogue activities.

"My life wouldn't be complete without music," says Frankel, 47. "I tend to use music like others use analgesics. If I'm sad, I'll play to bring up my spirits. My wife can tell my emotional state by what I choose to play."

Frankel, whose nine-attorney firm specializes in fiduciary trust and estate litigation, sees similarities between trial work and playing in an orchestra.

"You have to be nervous in both but you can't be overly nervous," says Frankel, sitting in his 45th-floor office at SunTrust Plaza in downtown Atlanta. "You have to feel confident but not overly so. And you have to be prepared. If you go on stage and aren't prepared, everyone will know it."

Frankel started taking violin lessons in the second grade. "Historically, the [Atlanta] school system has been one of the best in the country for string programs," he says. "When I grew up, schools offered instrumental music for free, and they gave you the instrument. If you look at the violin sections of all the major symphonies today, there's often someone my age or a little older from Atlanta."

Frankel played in the youth orchestra through high school and was a music minor and orchestral player at the University of North Carolina.

Other stints soon followed. Frankel played for the Athens Symphony orchestra while in law school at the University of Georgia, then for the Montgomery (Ala.) Symphony Orchestra while clerking for John C. Godbold, then chief judge of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Yet he came to realize he didn't quite have the skill level to play for one of the nation's premier symphony orchestras.

"I'm a good, solid orchestral player, but that's probably my limit," he says. 

Instead, this son of a lawyer opted for the law, carving out a reputation as one of Atlanta's top trial lawyers in estate, trust and commercial litigation and playing music on the side.

Beyond two-hour weekly rehearsals, Frankel manages to practice once or twice a week for an hour or two, sometimes late at night when the mood strikes. "My kids are 8, 11 and 14, but when they were younger I played to calm them," he says. "I have Barney down pat."

Frankel plays about half of the standard classical repertoire, including all the Beethoven symphonies, and loves listening to music. "I like hearing the technical pieces," he says. "I listen to the Paganini Caprices a lot and all the major violin concertos. I'd never played Vivaldi's Four Seasons before, but I'm teaching myself that now."

His biggest challenge? "Not losing my technique. Growing up and through college, my technique kept getting better, kind of like an athlete's. I don't think I'll ever get significantly better, certainly not technically, but I don't want to get worse. With maturity, though, you can improve on interpretation and quality. I might play ‘prettier' now because I'm more sophisticated and mature."

Frankel plays on a late-19th-century violin his grandmother gave him for his bar mitzvah. "While it plays beautifully, I'd call it a just-good, solid advanced-student instrument."

So Frankel and his wife, Jana, have decided to pursue an upgrade, which could mean spending close to $100,000. (A Stradivarius can run into the millions.)

"We don't have fancy cars or take extravagant vacations," he says. "And I really want a new violin."

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