How did cooperative law and collaborative law get started?

The cooperative process was created by Shelly Finman, Honorable Hugh E. Starnes and other local professionals in Lee County, Florida. The collaborative process was originated by attorney Stu Webb, of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

How many cooperative law cases have you had?

Over the last 15 years, no fewer than 500.

How many collaborative law engagements have you had?

Over the last few years, in excess of 50 cases.

How many of the collaborative cases have not settled, requiring you and your counterpart colleague on the other side to withdraw?

Approximately one out of 10 engagements.

What is the reason why a collaborative law engagement would not result in a settlement?

All of our collaborative cases settle when the parties act reasonably and are cooperative. When parties become inflexible and lack objectivity, not considering what the other side may feel is fair, the result could very well be an impasse, with no settlement.

Generally, why do most persons choose collaborative law?

Most wish to save money and reduce stress and conflict. Most also do not wish to harm their children, which will result if all of the parenting issues are not resolved and parental conflict ensues. Both parties understand that there is no court; therefore, many persons choose the process in order to stay out of court to remain discreet and confidential. We find that many prominent persons, or persons whose presence or activity or business matter may be subject to public scrutiny, appreciate the collaborative process.

How can an angry or distrustful client be guided in acting reasonably and cooperatively?

We take time and explain to the client that he or she is entitled to feeling the way they do. However, they must be able to control their feelings and act responsibly. We may also suggest engagement of a mental health professional to help the client understand his or her feelings, control those feelings, and how those feelings impact adversely on the collaborative process if not under control.

Is family law the only legal area of practice by collaborative practice professionals?

Actually, the collaborative process is slowly evolving into other legal areas, such as civil law disputes, estate and probate matters, U.S. Postal and is now also venturing into medical malpractice and errors. Shelly Finman has formed a dialog group of committed professionals in order to determine if the collaborative law process should be implemented in Southwest Florida in medical malpractice and errors.

What is the Collaborative Law Participation Agreement?

Both parties and attorneys are required to sign the Participation Agreement, which is the essence of how the collaborative process works. The parties agree not to seek court determination of a dispute during the collaborative law process whereby if a party does seek judicial intervention, the agreement requires that counsel for all parties must withdraw from further representation of legal proceedings.

This disqualification trigger actually encourages the parties and attorneys to focus on problem solving rather than positional bargaining. The Participation Agreement also incorporates other provisions in order to encourage problem-solving negotiations.

These include full voluntary disclosure of relevant information; joint retention of neutral experts, if reasonably required; and four-way meetings for all discussions and negotiations where the attorneys and parties focus on underlying interests and further share information and brainstorm solutions. The agreement also provides for confidentiality of the process and forms the basis for parameters of conduct, including termination of the process.

What clients are not appropriate for the collaborative law process?

Those clients who may be secretive and not able to freely and openly communicate, and those clients who may have a significant emotional health issue, which may include a personality disorder and who are unable to responsibly participate without significant awareness and help.

What kinds of divorce cases do you handle?

Primarily divorce or dissolution of marriage: court and noncourt cases. We do not work with clients in other marital law actions, such as paternity and postjudgment modification and enforcement. We also engage in collaborative law in drafting prenuptial agreements.

How much do you charge?

Our hourly rate is $380; however, the first 30 minutes of the initial consultation is free. Retainer fees range from $3,500 for a no-court engagement to $5,000 for noncollaborative cases where court intervention may occur, depending upon the issues and complexity.

More Questions? Contact Shelly Finman.