Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Consider Adding Collaborative Law to Your Practice

By Jeremy Gluckman 

     We all learned in law school that our legal system is an adversarial system. However, if you have ever thought that there might be a “better way” to go about resolving legal disputes, now is the time to consider adding collaborative law to your practice.  

     The Hillsborough County Bar Association, through our Collaborative Law Section, has taken on the task of promoting collaboration as a non-adversarial alternative in our legal system. Started initially in family law cases, efforts have now begun to expand collaborative practice into other areas of the law. The Tampa Bay Collaborative Divorce Group began to integrate this process into our legal community back in the 1990s. Years later, the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay (now known as Next Generation Divorce) was formed, and the Collaborative Law “movement” gained momentum. The Florida Civil Collaborative Practice Group, the most recently formed collaborative practice group, is designed to promote the collaborative process as a means of resolving almost every other kind of legal dispute. One of the main goals of our Collaborative Law Section is to act as a liaison between these three groups as we join forces on multiple projects.

     To HCBA members not yet exposed to collaborative law, the process used in family law consists of two clients who each retain separate lawyers, along with a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional (the full team model). Collaboration starts through a written agreement between the parties and the team. Unlike litigation, the lawyers’ only job is to help the clients settle their disputes; in fact, if the clients are unable to reach a settlement, the parties agree that the lawyers must withdraw from the case. The mental health professional acts as a facilitator throughout the process and will help the parties develop the best parenting plan possible when children are involved. The financial professional gathers relevant financial information from both parties and then helps them to divide their assets and analyze alimony and child support scenarios and alternatives. 

     The process involves open communication and disclosure between the clients and their lawyers, working together with the team in a collaborative manner. Through a series of meetings, the team works to ultimately reach a comprehensive settlement agreement.  

     Variations of this model are being developed for use in non-family disputes. In those cases, the system works a little differently, but the goal of finding the best and most workable solutions to conflicts is the same. And the results are often plans developed by the parties that judges might never have the authority or understanding to bring to an adversarial case.

     In September, our collaborative groups held one of many training programs in St. Petersburg. On November 5, all of our collaborative practice groups are co-sponsoring a meeting with the president of our statewide collaborative association. If you would like to start learning about practicing collaboratively, sign up for our next training program.