Thursday, March 20, 2008

Can We Use Just One Lawyer for Both of Us?

In a word, NO!

There are several reasons why both parties can't use the same lawyer.

1. It is unethical in Texas for an attorney to give legal advice to two opposing parties in a dispute. An attorney will not risk his or her license to do that. Even if that were not the case, each party would still need a separate attorney.

2. The definition of Collaborative Law in the Texas statute, and the way Collaborative Law is practiced elsewhere, provides for each party to be represented by his or her own attorney. It is mandatory. If the parties want to negotiate and if one or both parties decide to proceed without an attorney, they can attempt to reach an agreement, but it would not be the Collaborative process.

3. Even if attorneys were not mandatory, there are good reasons for each party to hire one. Attorneys benefit their clients by performing the following services:

  • Advise the client on various issues, such as what a judge or the law might do in a given situation. Give some practical advice from experience in divorce or other family law matters.

  • Educate the client on how things work in the legal or family systems.

  • Motivate the client to keep working on a settlement, even when the going gets tough, which happens in many Collaborative cases. Remind the client about how bad the alternatives can be.

  • Do the paperwork. Someone has to file the original petition for divorce, notify the court that the parties have agreed to use Collaborative procedure and file periodic reports with the court. Once agreement is reached, it will be necessary to do the final papers.

  • Be an advocate for the client, but in a different way than is common in litigation. In a Collaborative case, the parties do most of the talking at the joint meetings. Attorneys can provide some information and suggestions, but rarely speak for the client the same as they would if they were appearing in court or participating in settlement or mediation negotiations. Attorneys deal with the other professionals outside the meeting and help prepare the client for Collaboration.

  • Work with the other professionals. The attorney will help set up the process, organize and frame the issues and meet with the other professionals before and after the joint meetings.

  • Attorneys also help their clients stay connected to reality as they work through the Collaborative Law process. Sometimes parties can become unrealistic in their expectations of how the process will work. Some people start out thinking about how easy the process will be and then become upset if it slows down. Attorneys can remind the parties about the various problems that may come up, so there are few surprises.

  • Attorneys also help maintain a balance of power between the sessions. If only one party had an attorney, the other party might feel intimidated and certainly would lack the information and understanding needed to have fairly equal parties.

You can handle your own divorce without a lawyer in Texas, if you prefer, but it just can't be a Collaborative divorce. Each party must be represented by a separate attorney for the Collaborative approach to be used and to get a better result for both parties.

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