Monday, May 18, 2015

Collaborative Law: From Talking the Talk to Walking the Walk

By John Fraser Himes

Three years ago when our section began, the main objective was to educate the Bar and public about the collaborative process as an often-better alternative to court and litigation. Informing divorcing couples how they can resolve their problems peaceably, privately, and in a child-sensitive way is very important. That objective continues to be a challenge, but significant progress has been made! We have an energetic section, supported by our judiciary, and two enthusiastic practice groups all working to achieve that goal. We have significantly increased awareness of this process, which empowers clients to make their own decisions on how to settle their cases, and the Collaborative Law Legislation is hopefully poised for passage, so we may have our statute that will heighten awareness to new levels. 

The section and the practice groups have also presented excellent educational opportunities. Woody Mosten recently presented a two-day seminar on how to become a full-time (and profitable) peacemaker. Last fall, Linda Solomon and Rita Pollock presented an advanced seminar teaching problem-solving techniques and the importance of the “we” in our teams. 
For those already trained and convinced that the collaborative process is our preferred way to handle a divorce, I believe we all agree the more collaborative cases we handle, the better we perform our technical roles as peacemakers. However, it also becomes increasingly obvious that there is much more to learn to enhance our skills. The skills of the collaborative practitioner may be different, but they are just as important as the skills required to hone trial advocacy skills. We are realizing, as we use the collaborative process more, our skills need to improve to better handle those difficult moments, clients, and lawyers who are struggling to make the paradigm shift as well.

Collaborative lawyers have come to realize the importance of facilitators because they possess skills that we, as lawyers, weren’t trained to have. Mental health professionals have skills of neutrality and non-defensive communication necessary to help clients feel safe and understood. Skills we need to develop are mindfulness, listening, being present, and being self-aware, as well as aware of others, so that our words are chosen and effective in the questions we ask and the communications we intend. To help our clients solve their problems at a very difficult time, we need to strive for excellence and continue to learn and be better at what we do. Just as law school does not a lawyer make, one or two trainings do not an accomplished collaborative lawyer make.

Selling the process is the important first step, but the easier one. The next important step is for us to become excellent, to accept the challenge to always be learning, so we can more effectively deliver collaborative services for parties to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution.  Being a poor performer in a great process hurts our clients and will hurt the reputation of the process, so strive to walk the walk well!