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 client 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 option
s 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 theInternational 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 an introductory interdisciplinary collaborative training. You can find a training near you at the website of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.
A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2014 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.