Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Mentors Can Help The Collaborative Law Process Succeed

By Jennifer Ross

Collaborative divorce is relatively new in this area, and there is still much to be learned by those involved ― from the experienced professional to the newcomer. Although I have been involved in hundreds of traditional litigation cases during my career, this knowledge and experience is not completely transferable due to unique aspects of the collaborative process. The work product is much the same, but key differences lie in the process by which the outcome is achieved.  Because these differences do not involve the technical aspects of a financial professional’s work, traditional education methods are less effective, and a mentoring process is beneficial. The discussions, support, and free exchange of ideas that form the basis of a mentoring relationship would offer advantages for all participants.

Unlike traditional divorce litigation, the collaborative process combines four professional roles to form a multidisciplinary team. The team includes an attorney for each party, a financial professional, and a facilitator. The parties ultimately control the outcome, but the form of the process is set by the team. It is this collaborative team aspect that introduces new questions and issues for the professionals involved. Examples of the types of issues that are unique to the collaborative process include:

•    Devising solutions when conflicts between the parties arise. There is no judge to make rulings to resolve conflicts. Therefore, the professional team must determine the proper approach to move the process forward in a way that best addresses the goals identified by the parties.

•    Handling communications between professional team members and with the parties. Some communications may be appropriate for all parties, but some should be limited to specific team members.

•    Working effectively with the facilitator. A financial professional’s work on a litigated matter does not typically involve interacting with a mental health professional or facilitator. 

•    Using a problem-solving approach to find solutions to issues that meet the parties’ stated goals/interests. This is a different approach to the resolution of financial issues than that used in preparing for litigation or even in traditional mediation.

Collaborative team members must exercise their own discretion, both individually and in collaboration with other team members. Good judgment is gained in large part through experience. The experience and insight that can be offered by a mentor would be of great value to a newcomer to the collaborative process. Having the opportunity to observe other collaborative matters and have access to a mentor for support would allow professionals new to the collaborative process to confidently fulfill their role and be a fully contributing member of the team. This will, in turn, result in better outcomes for the parties, which will be beneficial to the future success of the collaborative model for divorce practice. It’s my hope that all those practicing collaborative law will be open to and supportive of the development of mentoring relationships among professionals in our community.