Most family law attorneys who have taken an introductory collaborative law training are sold on the concept. It is great for clients because they work together, focus on the future, and leave the marriage better prepared for life after divorce. And it is great for attorneys because we get to team with practitioners we know, like, and respect in a non-adversarial setting, oftentimes alongside experts in family dynamics and finance.
And yet, I hear the same comment all the time, I just cant seem to get a collaborative case.
So, how do you get a collaborative case?
Well, you dont. Collaborative divorce is not yet well known enough by the general public, so you should not expect clients to come into your office asking for it. One day soon that will change, but we are not there yet.
Accordingly, rather than focusing on how to get collaborative cases, you should focus on how to create collaborative cases. You have knowledge that the general public does not. Most people only know what they see on TV and movies (or the worst case scenarios heard from family and friends), and so they expect that divorce means that you both make arguments in front of a judge, and then let a judge decide the issues.
The first step needed to create collaborative cases is to tell every client about it. If you believe that most clients would be best served by staying out of the court system, and that long-lasting decisions should be based on long-term interests rather than threats, you can talk to each client about collaborative practice. If they dont know about it, they cant choose it.
While speaking with each client, it is also essential to listen. Most will tell you that, of course, he/she is interested in collaborative practice, but there is no way that the spouse would be open to it. Find out why, and help the client develop a strategy and message that informs the spouse. You can provide the client with written materials to pass on, or identify a trusted friend or relative who can talk to the spouse, or write an e-mail to your client which addresses the interests of each spouse and how they might be best addressed privately and suggest they forward it to the spouse.
Additionally, provide your client with contact information for collaboratively-trained attorneys for the spouse. Lists can be found at the websites of your local collaborative practice group.
On a wider view, encourage your fellow attorneys to take an introductory collaborative training. What I found is that whether a case goes collaborative has very little to do with the client. Rather, it has to do with whether the spouse chooses a collaboratively-trained attorney. In my experience, if the other attorney is collaboratively trained, and we talk about it, there is an 80-90% chance that the case will go collaborative.
So, yes, it takes a little more work, but you can create collaborative cases.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of the Hillsborough County Bar Association LAWYER Magazine.
Adam B. Cordover, J.D., M.A.,is a collaborative attorney and Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator who practices exclusively in private dispute resolution in Tampa, Florida. Adam is a Past President of Next Generation Divorce, growing it to become Floridas largest collaborative practice group, and a graduate of the Leadership Academy of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Additionally, Adam is a founding member of the Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers and Peacemaking Practice Trainers. Adam is co-author with Forrest (Woody) Mosten of an upcoming American Bar Association Book on Building A Successful Collaborative Law Practice.