Making the Switch to Collaborative Law
Excerpted from Collaborative Law: Achieving Effective Resolution in Divorce without Litigation, Second Edition
By Pauline H. Tesler
Although switching to a collaborative law practice involves starting over, doing so is challenging, rewarding, prudent, and socially useful.
- Challenging: By the time most of us reach our prime professional years, we have mastered our craft, but we are rarely called upon to master an unknown skill. Learning the craft of collaborative lawyering involves mastering knowledge and skills that were not taught to us in law school and that few of us learn in the course of our litigation practices. Lawyers like challenges; learning to do this work is a particularly engaging challenge.
- Rewarding: We work very hard when we do family law trial work. If we get recognition for a job well done, it is more likely to come from the judge or a colleague than from the client for whom we toiled. In collaborative practice, however, it is common for clients who reach agreements to express profound gratitude for the work done by both lawyers. Collaborative lawyers learn to enjoy the appreciation of the clients they serve as a regular feature of their work.
- Prudent: The market share of family law clients who want to hire a lawyer to manage their entire divorce within a litigation matrix from start to finish is diminishing. Increasingly, even clients who can afford such representation do not want it. Many clients ask for mediation and for unbundled legal services rather than turn the case over to the all-powerful lawyer of record. From a strategic planning perspective, lawyers who want to serve the needs of the market by offering a full menu of dispute-resolution options will need to be familiar with collaborative law.
- Socially Useful: Given the negative impact highly conflicted divorce proceedings can have on all parties, it is apparent that we serve not only our clients but our larger society by offering collaborative law and by learning to do it well. In this regard, collaborative law is in the forefront of an upwelling of change in the legal profession.
To do the work of collaborative law well, an experienced lawyer must become a beginner and unlearn a bundle of old automatic behaviors before he or she can acquire the new, more conscious attitudes, behaviors, and habits of a good collaborative lawyer. Without this effort, the pull toward conducting conventional settlement negotiations will be strong, and the risk of unsuccessful collaboration will be relatively high.