Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The ABA Seal of Approval

Because Collaborative Law is still a fairly new approach in the law, some attorneys haven't really warmed up to the concept of doing divorces and other family law cases a different, non-traditional, way. For various reasons, often because they don't like change, they have opposed the expansion of Collaborative Law, or at least haven't been trained and don't participate in it.

Some attorneys have expressed some vague ideas that there could be some ethical problems with Collaborative Law. In February 2007, a committee of the Colorado Bar Association gave an odd advisory opinion that attorneys there should not participate in Collaborative Law because it created a situation of divided loyalties, which was based on a unique Colorado rule.

That issue should be laid to rest now, however, because the American Bar Association Ethics Committee has issued an opinion supporting Collaborative Law as long as the parties involved are thoroughly aware of how the process works. Educating clients about the process is something that is a part of every Collaborative case. It involves letting the parties know the various options they have in how legal cases can be resolved. Before a Collaborative Law case begins, both parties must understand and commit to the process. If they choose not to take the Collaborative path, they are free to try litigation or another approach.

In Texas, we have the first Collaborative Law statute passed that is now in our Family Code. We are beyond the vague ethical issues because the statute in effect endorses the process. In practice, we have created a Texas model, or approach, for Collaborative Law that involves giving the parties full information about their options and letting them make informed decisions about how they wish to proceed.

At least five other states have ethics opinions supporting Collaborative Law. Colorado has been the only state that has published a critical ethics opinion and the A.B.A. should now have put the issue to rest. It's nice to have some additional confirmation that we are participating in a helpful process for people in a difficult time. For best results, clients should thoroughly discuss all questions and concerns with their attorneys before they start the process.

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