Introduction to my Fellow Family Law Professionals:
I have practiced Family law for over 40 years and truly believe in saving families during divorce. This is just as important as facilitating a divorce for your clients. I helped develop the Cooperative Law process and have embraced the Collaborative Law process in my practice. (More about these two processes elsewhere at my website.)
In the months to come, I would like to share some of what I have learned throughout my years of experience.
Collaborative Law: 10 Basics and Tips for Family Law Professionals
(Outline for a presentation, which allows for discussion on all points.)
1. Collaborative Law involves more than two or more reasonable attorneys working in a trusting, professional relationship pre-suit.
2. The Collaborative process requires a Collaborative Participation Agreement signed by both parties and both lawyers (or all lawyers, if more than one for either or both sides). Until this agreement is signed, a valid and binding Collaborative process has yet to commence. If there is an intention to have a Collaborative process, but the Collaborative Participation Agreement is not fully signed, the process can evolve into a Cooperative process, which does not require a written participation agreement.
3. You should never underestimate the need for one or two Collaborative Coaches. A Collaborative Coach in the Collaborative process is a therapist who will promote a constructive flow during the process and assists the parties in maintaining an appropriate emotional outlook. Coaches model communication skills and can have a real positive impact in transition from marriage in a positive manner.
4. Skills and competence in interest-based negotiations and facilitative dialogue are best practices which should be in every professional’s “tool box” when practicing Collaborative Law. Active listening techniques and deliberate choice of words (use of positive nomenclature) are helpful in allowing ongoing dialogue.
5. Competent collaborative lawyers are not WUSSES. A respectful and empathetic attitude, together with establishing firm boundaries of behavior for clients, will promote a higher level of professional competence and better outcomes.
6. E.A.R. is my mantra. I have learned from trainings and books by Bill Eddy, the authority on working with high conflict persons (HighConflictInstitute.com), how to be a better collaborative practitioner, lawyer, and person.
Empathy, Attention, Respect
7. When practicing Collaborative Law, the attorney must leave his or her ego and competitive zeal at the door!
8. In Collaborative Law, the lawyers determine the process. The clients determine their outcome.
9. When all else fails in a Collaborative Law engagement and you, the family law professional, do not know what to do next, call a time-out. Some options are:
- Debrief with your counterpart colleague
- Call another respected, experienced colleague for a neutral consultation
- Bring a well-respected retired judge into the process
10. If you are looking for easy work, don’t bother engaging in Collaborative Law. If you want to save families, this is your best opportunity to make a real difference in your practice and positively affecting the lives of your clients and their families.