Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Find the Best Collaborative Lawyer in Tarrant County (or anywhere!)

For some of us, our competitive nature won't give up, even if we decide to participate in the Collaborative process. That nature shows itself when someone commits to doing a Collaborative divorce, and then begins to search for "the best Collaborative lawyer" in Tarrant County, or wherever they live. If that's what you're looking for, I have bad news and good news for you. The bad news is that it's hard to really tell who "the best" is. The good news is that almost all Collaborative lawyers are really good at what we do, and in addition, we can all get help by using mental health professionals and financial professionals. Let me elaborate.

First, the bad news: It's hard to tell which Collaborative attorneys will be the best. Just like in litigation, there's no overall objective ranking service to indicate who's the best. The truth is that an excellent Collaborative attorney may be a great match for you, but not work out well for your friend or neighbor or relative. The opposite is also true. An attorney who is great for someone else may not work out well for you. It really comes down to chemistry.

There are several things you can do to find a Collaborative attorney who would work well with you.
  • Ask about their experience. Attorneys can tell you about the number of cases they have handled and they can tell you whether they have worked cases with issues similar to yours.
  • Find out how much training the attorney has had, and whether they have recently had training. Collaborative Law is such a new process that attorneys need a lot of training and need to refresh their Collaborative training at least once a year.
  • Another indicator to check on is whether the attorney has trained other attorneys in Collaborative Law or spoken to different groups about it.
  • Ask the attorney to explain how the Collaborative process works. The attorney should be able to clearly explain the process and discuss how your issues could be resolved with the process.
  • Make sure the attorney's communication style is comfortable for you. Everyone has their own communication needs and style. Divorce is a stressful enough time just by itself. Be sure that you feel good and feel listened to when you talk with your attorney.
  • Recommendations from friends, attorneys and other professionals can be helpful as a starting point -- just be careful to consider the comments above and evaluate each attorney.
  • You and your spouse do not need to hire an attorney just because that attorney is in the same practice group with the first attorney selected. All attorneys in Tarrant County represent clients from all over the county, so you can choose anyone you wish.

Now, the good news: we've got backup. In Tarrant County, there are many well trained Collaborative attorneys and almost all Collaborative divorces are worked as a team effort. We have learned over the years that the process works much better when we bring in a mental health specialist and a financial specialist at the beginning. The mental health professional meets with the parties before the first joint meeting and that helps the parties know what to expect. It also helps all the professionals learn about the issues that are important to both sides.

Also, don't worry if both the attorneys don't have the same level of experience in the Collaborative process. As long as both attorneys have at least a two-day basic training and some recent training, there should be no problem. Part of the Participation Agreement that both the parties and their attorneys sign at the outset says that neither party will take advantage of each other or hide information or fail to openly and honestly cooperate. (There's no such agreement in litigated cases.) That means that if an attorney made a mistake in the case, the other attorney would help the first attorney correct it. As long as at least one attorney is experienced, the Collaborative process should work out.

The bottom line: There is no need to find the single best Collaborative attorney, which is lucky because there's no way to determine who is the best. But there are number of things that parties can check out about prospective attorneys when deciding who to hire. In the end, chemistry may be the most important ingredient in choosing the right Collaborative attorney for you. Pay attention to your gut feeling and how well the attorney communicates with you. Trust your attorney, but also take advantage of the other professionals involved in your case. They all want you to be successful.

Friday, April 3, 2009

5 Ways Collaborative Law is Like the Space Program

We recently had another successful launch of a space shuttle, but you may not have noticed it. We are near the end of the shuttle phase of the U.S. space program, about to switch to other vehicles, and we don't tend to pay attention to take-offs and landings as much as we used to. It's probably not a good idea to take space travel for granted yet, but people have accepted it as a normal part of life. While there are still innovations to be expected in the future, we are pretty comfortable with how space travel happens now.

After the recent launch, I began thinking about similarities between Collaborative Law and the space program. That may seem like a very strange comparison, one that doesn't immediately jump to mind, but there are some legitimate common features. Here are some I noticed:

  • Both use old skills and equipment for new purposes in other fields. In the space program, a lot of the equipment was converted from wartime use to peaceful purposes, such as rockets and guidance systems. In Collaborative Law, we have begun to use neutral specialists from other fields to work with both parties to help them reach appropriate agreements.

  • In both fields, we converted former fighters into peaceful leaders. The original astronauts were trained fighter pilots in the military who converted into peaceful space pilots. Most Collaborative lawyers are former litigators who learned and practiced trial skills. Sometimes, attorneys have trouble converting their focus to a peaceful process, but it will happen with experience.

  • Both programs depend on a lot of cooperation and a blend of many different skills. The space program is a very complex system with many interrelated contributors around the world. Collaborative Law requires cooperation between two parties, their lawyers and usually some other neutral professionals. The process is effective because everyone works together and contributes some part to creating successful negotiations. Communication skills are improved by the use of mental health specialists. Financial and parenting decisions are improved though the use of neutral experts in each field.

  • The space program is a peaceful endeavor and peace is the essence of Collaborative Law. NASA is a civilian agency that oversees the U.S. space program and the focus has been on peaceful advances in science and transportation. One of the main attributes of Collaborative Law is that it is much more peaceful than the destructive processes inherent in family law litigation. Going to trial, cross examining the other parties and witnesses and focusing on events in the past are all elements of the litigation approach that places little value on kindness, civility and family relationships. Collaborative Law provides a safe, creative and effective way for both parties to achieve their most important goals without tearing each other up.

  • Some day, hopefully soon, neither space travel nor Collaborative Law will be a big deal. They will both be the norm. People will be able to travel to far away planets and it will become common. Probably sooner than that happens, we expect Collaborative Law will become the primary method of resolving disputes. Now, these are both considered somewhat visionary, but that will change before too long.

Stay tuned. Collaborative Law has been launched and is coming more and more into view!