You may have heard of the reasons clients choose the collaborative method to resolve their legal and family disputes: Respect is fostered. Communication is enhanced. Privacy is maintained. Solutions are comprehensive. Budgets are respected. Agreements are long-lasting.
But why do attorneys choose to practice collaborative law?
Work in a Team Environment
Rather than adversaries, the other party and attorney on a collaborative case are fellow team members whose goals include finding a solution best for the family. The team is led by a neutral facilitator ― generally a mental health professional ― who guides productive and respectful behavior for the clients and their attorneys. A financial professional usually takes over many of the disclosure responsibilities and develops options that maximize the parties’ resources. Collaborative practitioners refer to this team-centric view as a “paradigm-shift,” as attorneys must: (i) discard the “us versus them” mentality and (ii) cede control over aspects of the case to professionals who will more efficiently and effectively address them.
Engage in a Creative and Intellectual Endeavor
Creativity as a problem-solving skill is essential in collaborative practice, as attorneys must withdraw if the clients are unable to reach an agreement. Unlike in mediation, where the option of impasse takes the pressure off of parties and their attorneys from making difficult decisions, attorneys who do not want to be fired must dig deep into their toolboxes to address interests behind stated positions.
Of course, this is made easier with the help of the interdisciplinary team. The facilitator will identify underlying issues, lead brainstorming sessions, and help the clients respectfully and productively choose the best solution for them. Further, the financial professional will propose property division, child support, and alimony scenarios that are well beyond the expertise of family law attorneys. In turn, attorneys’ exposure to financial and mental health professionals’ perspectives on issues tend to widen their knowledge base and aide their general law practice.
Help Clients Grow
Rather than being destructive, collaborative practice tends to be a constructive process for clients. The facilitator teaches respectful communication skills and techniques for resolving future disputes. Where children are involved, the focus remains on them, and co-parenting skills are enhanced. The financial professional can often find tax benefits, teach the financially less sophisticated spouse how to create a budget, and/or propose better strategies for the clients’ portfolios.
Client growth brings higher rates of satisfaction, and happy clients lead to happy attorneys. (By the way, according to a multi-year study by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, almost 90 percent of collaborative cases end successfully, with an additional 2 percent of cases ending in reconciliation of the clients.)
So how can you become a collaborative lawyer?
The first step is to attend a collaborative training. Fortunately, we are having a training session March 20-22 right here in Tampa. You can find the registration form and learn more about collaborative practice at the websites of Next Generation Divorce, Tampa Bay Collaborative Divorce Group, and the HCBA Collaborative Law Section.