Ty Frankel: Making it Work

Written by Susan Cushing

Some people just seem to lead with their heart. Attorney Ty Frankel is just such a man. Even before discovering his professional path there was a driving force within Frankel defined by an unwavering desire to help others.

There is something uniquely organic, even poetic in the fact that the very act of seeking ways to serve others and contribute to his community led Frankel to law school and eventually a dynamic and altruistic career.

“I think I was always the type of person looking for ways be involved in the community,” he says modestly. “In some ways it felt selfish because I drew energy from being able to help people. Similarly, my interest in politics was a natural result of just being concerned with those things affecting my community.”

Today Frankel, a shareholder in the firm of Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint PC, is considered one of the most successful and respected employment law and class action attorneys in the Southwest, representing clients before federal and state courts and agencies in a wide variety of class action and employment law matters.

However, long before embarking on this rewarding legal career, in fact while still an undergraduate studying political science and communications at Boston College, Frankel not only became involved in a fascinating and historically significant immigration internship but one that also proved to play a decisive role in helping him choose the course that would eventually lead to such an illustrious career.

I think I was always the type of person looking for ways be involved in the community.

Historical Internship

“I worked with Senator Ted Kennedy as an intern doing immigration constituent work,” says Frankel. “It was one of my first realizations about the serious impact that the law and the implementation of law can have on individual human beings and their day-to-day lives. That experience really made it hit home for me that this was something I could do that would directly help someone and certainly was what got the juices going for me and sparked the idea of law school and using that degree to continue helping people in very real ways.”

“It was such a great experience in so many ways,” he continues. “It was less of a political role and more of helping individuals cut through the red tape of immigration bureaucracy. The senator had so many people reaching out to him for help in these areas and it was our job to intervene wherever possible to keep things moving.”

Frankel jumped into the internship with youthful enthusiasm and energy, delighted to find a place where he could actually see dramatic changes for the better and how his work could make such a positive impact on the lives of so many people. The significance of what he was involved with was not lost on him either.

“It was so historic,” he says, “I mean just the fact that Ted Kennedy was JFK’s brother and with the knowledge that this is a family who traditionally fought for the ‘little guy.’ Ted Kennedy was always such a huge advocate for workers’ rights and supported raising the minimum wage. So much of what he stood for perfectly aligned with my beliefs then and now, so this was something I was very proud to be a part of.

“I’m still passionate about these same views and principles and try to make sure this is reflected in my own work,” he adds. “This includes making sure everyone is treated with dignity in their job. The benefits are evident not only to the workforce but to the employers as well by increasing morale.”

As part of a tight group of individuals working for Senator Kennedy, Frankel was also in a unique position occasionally privy to “insider glimpses” to not only the inner workings of U.S. politics but the more personal aspects of the lives of some of our country’s lawmakers.

“I got to meet Senator Kennedy,” says Frankel, “and attended a birthday party that was held for him in Boston. I believe that was back in 2005 after John Kerry had run for president. It was pretty cool having the opportunity to see all these people who you know from the news interacting just as regular people. Gives you an interesting take on things.

“I certainly felt that Senator Kennedy, much more than most politicians, took great pride in the work he could do on behalf of the people of Massachusetts,” he adds. “He seemed sincerely concerned with and dedicated to helping the residents of that state with their needs through the district office. By the time I was an intern he’d probably been serving in the Senate for 40 years or so and still seemed as dedicated if not more than when he first started. I was impressed that he made sure he had qualified people in positions to help his constituents with day-to-day issues and was very responsive.”

Labors of Love

Frankel admits that while he’s known virtually all his life that he wanted a career that would somehow allow him to help people he hadn’t decided on law school prior to his enlightening internship with Senator Kennedy. That experience definitely helped make that decision. The young law student began his course of study at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and then attended Boston College Law School and gradually discovered exactly what area of the law seemed to call to him.

“I took a lot of courses on human rights and immigration law,” he says, “but I also took several employment law courses because of my belief in preserving the dignity of work and that every job is important. The more I studied the more I realized how employees can be either positively or negatively impacted by the law and how deeply this in turn can affect their lives. One of the most obvious examples involves wages and how employees are paid. That is a very complex issue which, given the ever-changing laws, has become quite a dynamic area of law.”

As Frankel became more intrigued with his studies and continued to explore what would eventually become his areas of practice in law, he still found time to give back. Perhaps his favorite among these commitments was with the Boston Children’s Hospital.

“I was fortunate to do a fellowship, which was an interdisciplinary study,” he says. “They had people from various stages of their careers from a variety of different fields including physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, and others, and we were all there to study the real-life impact of having a child with a developmental disability and what could be done to help. As a law student, I was there to learn how law and policy could help these families. 

“It offered me a very unique vantage from which to observe first-hand just how extensive and devastating, the impact is on parents, siblings and other family members when there is a child requiring intensive care.”

The program was conceived in such a way as to allow participants to spend significant time with the families of these affected children in order to get a real sense of the day-to-day challenges they faced.

“What struck me most wasn’t even the challenges or difficulties they deal with, because these are dedicated people who will do anything to help their child,” says Frankel, “rather, what struck me the most is the fear that they live with.”

He recounts the dire situation of one family in particular that he became acquainted with who’s child suffered from severe autism.

“The child was non-communicative and would become extremely frustrated with his inability to express his thoughts and feelings,” says Frankel. “This frustration led him to act out physically, not necessarily violently, but he was only 10 at the time. His parents lived in fear about what was going to happen as he grew older, stronger and inevitably more frustrated. How were they going to deal with this?

“It was interesting because the whole point of this program was to learn about the psychological aspects of everything that’s involved in caring for a child with these disabilities and what attorneys in particular can do about changing laws in order to get more effective resources to these individuals,” he adds. “For me it was an illuminating experience to see the whole picture and how all the pieces fit together. I think for me personally, it was both surprising and encouraging to realize that even with an individual family such as the one I observed, an attorney can have a positive impact. That’s something that I have carried with me, the hope and potential of what we attorneys are capable of achieving and improving when we remember that these aren’t just laws and legislation we’re dealing with in some abstract sense, but real human beings on both sides of every case. I think for me, it’s that human aspect that makes the difference. Whether my days are long and difficult, stressful or challenging, when I remember why it’s all worthwhile at the end of the day.”

Another project that Frankel continues to be actively involved with is the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, which provides free legal and social services to detained adults and children under threat of deportation.

“While I don’t practice immigration law per se, I have occasionally represented refugees on a pro bono basis through the Florence Project,” he says. “Because of what led me to law school and the work I did with Senator Kennedy, I knew I wanted to at least continue giving back trying to help immigrants and in particular refugees.”

Frankel’s work and dedication to this cause eventually led him to becoming a board member and board president. During his tenure as president, the organization grew from just under 40 to more than 150 employees because of a significant increase in donations. This growth enabled the organization to better respond to the family separation crisis and provide even more widespread services to immigrant children and adults detained in Arizona.

Heart of the Matter

Frankel’s practice is primarily devoted to wage and hour litigation representing employees in numerous national, regional and statewide class and collective actions seeking to recover unpaid overtime and minimum wage. In these actions Frankel has taken on business of all sizes ranging from local companies to publicly traded corporations.

Perhaps most importantly, Frankel has navigated  cases through each stage of litigation from the initial case investigation to filing the complaint, the class and collective action certification, through engaging in discovery and depositions, dispositive motion practice, pretrial procedures, trial, and appeal. His knowledge and experience in each phase have earned Frankel a reputation for being one of the most thorough and detailed attorneys in the field.

Testifying to Frankel’s exceptional skills and persistence is colleague Patti Syverson, also an experienced class action and employment law attorney and a shareholder in Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint PC. Although based out of the firm’s San Diego office, Syverson frequently joins Frankel representing clients here in Arizona.

“I have worked with Ty for over 10 years and have greatly enjoyed the experience,” she says. “Ty has taught me so much not only about the practice of employment law specifically, but about vigorously representing clients in general while conducting oneself in a professional manner. Ty strives to practice law – and simply live his life – while always holding onto the highest ethical standards. He is an asset to our profession and our community.”

“We have eighteen attorneys,” notes Frankel, “And we have ‘big firm’ capabilities. We have class actions that are national in scope and are equipped with great technology to be able to handle the volume of documents associated with such large cases. The employment group itself has multiple attorneys and Patti is an excellent example of the kind of talent and experience we bring.

“Basically, our resources and capabilities I would without hesitation stack up against any other firm regardless of size.”

It’s important to note that while a ferocious champion for his employee clients who have suffered an injustice by their employer, Frankel is above all else a fair and open-minded man. Just because he fights for the rights of wage earners does not mean he automatically paints all employers as bad.

Appreciating the complexities of the ever-changing labor laws, Frankel offers education and counseling to employers about employment law practices, including matters involving compensation, employment policies, hiring, separation from employment, internal workplace investigations, and disability accommodations.

Patti Syverson

I have worked with Ty for over 10 years and have greatly enjoyed the experience,” she says. “Ty has taught me so much not only about the practice of employment law


When he’s not fighting a noble cause, Frankel enjoys a bit slower pace. “I enjoy yoga and hot yoga,” he admits with a grin. “I really didn’t think I was someone who would buy into that concept, but I discovered I really enjoy it.”

There are also Frankel’s best friends, Blizzard, Orly and Teddy, three Shelties who keep him busy and active.

“They’re always happy to see me and no matter what’s happened during the day they can always make me smile and distract me.”

Despite his full load of commitments and potentially emotionally draining work, Frankel says he really does feel fortunate to do the work that he does with the people at his firm.

“At our firm we have such a great environment,” he says, “I’ve always felt supported and very fortunate to work there.”

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Phoenix, AZ 85016

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