Sunday, November 30, 2008

What is a Practice Group?

Sometimes, when people learn about Collaborative Law, they research the subject on the Internet and run across the phrase "practice group". The term isn't often defined and people wonder what it is and how it might affect them or their case. This post is to briefly explain about practice groups.

What are they? A practice group is a group of trained Collaborative professionals. They are not a law firm, partnership or corporation. It is a group of unaffiliated individuals who support, practice and promote Collaborative Law. Some groups are just lawyers and other groups also have mental health professionals, financial specialists, child specialists and perhaps other professionals as members, as well as lawyers.

Why do they exist? Practice groups have several functions. They promote standardization of procedures for how Collaborative cases are handled. They provide a way for Collaborative professionals to network and get to know each other. Practice groups often work together to have a web site and use other means to publicize Collaborative Law. They work to educate the public and other professionals about how Collaborative Law works and its advantages. They also sometimes will sponsor training sessions for their members and other local Collaborative Professionals.

What are their membership requirements? Membership rules vary from group to group. Among the most common requirements are that the professional must have completed at least one basic two-day Collaborative Law training course. Many also require continuing Collaborative Law training every year. Some groups require that their members also join the state and/or national Collaborative Law organizations.

Must Collaborative professionals be a member of a practice group? NO.

Do both attorneys in a Collaborative case have to be members of the same practice group? NO.

You can choose any trained attorney you want and it is common for attorneys from different groups to work together. In addition, attorneys who are not members of any practice group are free to work with anyone. It really comes down to the client's choice. Attorneys are used to working with anyone from anywhere in the county (and sometimes from other counties), so we normally know most of the Collaborative attorneys anyway.

Ultimately, clients should choose whoever they are comfortable with. Collaborative attorneys should not pressure a party to hire a certain attorney or to work exclusively with a certain practice group. Some groups offer a list of trained attorneys for the convenience of an unrepresented spouse, but I would suggest each party hire a Collaborative attorney as they would any other attorney: make sure the attorney has had sufficient Collaborative Law training, get recommendations, use referrals from trusted sources, research on the Internet and then make the decision only after meeting the attorney in person. You want an experienced, qualified attorney you are comfortable with.

Keep in mind that Collaborative skills are different from litigation skills, so an excellent litigation attorney who has not been trained in Collaborative Law would be a bad choice to represent someone in a Collaborative case. The good news is that there are now a substantial number of well-qualified Collaborative lawyers in Tarrant County. Spend a little time investigating and you will be well represented!

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