Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is Collaborative Law Cheaper than Litigation?

This is one of the most common questions I hear. Some people have gotten the idea that Collaborative Law is cheaper than litigation. In fact, some attorneys tell people that it is a cheaper process. Unfortunately, we can't really determine that.

No Way to Compare

In some ways, I would like to think that Collaborative Law would be less expensive, but no one can really answer the question because there's no way to compare the processes. If you think about it, you can see that there can be no direct comparisons:
  • Each case is different from every other case, so you can't make meaningful comparisons between two different cases. While there could be two cases where the parents each need to work out arrangements for their three children, there will always be differences that affect the amount of time and effort the parties and attorneys must expend. Maybe the father wants primary custody in one case and the mother wants primary custody in the other case. Different work schedules or special needs of the children or parents would impact the cost of a case.
  • There's also no way to take one case and figure out its cost in Collaborative Law and then re-calculate it as a litigated case. There are always unplanned events during a case as the parties move toward resolution. Things would happen differently under each approach, so the parties might have to do more or less work in one system as compared to the other system. In other words, there could be multiple hearings or numerous discovery fights in a litigated case, and there could be extra meetings in a Collaborative case if new problems develop.
However, there are two questions which can be answered.

1. Is Collaborative Law cheap? I would say that it usually is not, but of course "cheap" is relative. Collaborative would be cheap if there weren't many meetings. In some case, it happens that way. Most of the really easy cases, from my experience, don't go into the Collaborative process. Instead, the parties work out all or most issues informally and then the attorneys help them finish up an agreement.

Since the easy cases settle out quickly (and cheaply), that leaves the more difficult cases to be resolved. By the nature of the cases, we usually have a full team of professionals and have multiple meetings. We can achieve good results, but it will not be cheap.

2. Is the Collaborative Law result worth the cost? From my perspective, yes. Here's why:
  • Consider what's at risk. Collaborative Law allows the parties to deal with personal issues in privacy. They get to be the ones to make their own decisions, instead of letting a stranger decide the details of their personal lives. Collaborative parties can work out unique, customized solutions to their problems, instead of following standard guidelines that may not make sense for them. They also work in a less-stressful environment and communicate and participate in a manner that helps preserve, and sometimes improve, their family relationships.
  • Consider the result attained. The parties are always focused on meeting their own goals and special needs. The process is efficient in dealing with the most important matters and making sure that both parties have input and the benefit of neutral experts as needed. In the end, the Collaborative parties create their own solutions targeting their most important goals, needs and interests. A plan is put in place only if both parties agree to the terms.
  • Consider the effects of maintaining good family relationships. There's a greater likelihood that the parties can continue to work things out without court intervention if they continue to either use the Collaborative team or use the skills they learned in the process. While it's common for parties in the litigation system to frequently go back to court several times until the youngest child turns 18 (and sometimes later), Collaborative parties tend to be more willing to talk civilly and compromise. In this case, you can truly say that talk is cheap -- cheaper than hiring lawyers and going to court.
To summarize, I can't compare systems and say that Collaborative Law is cheaper than litigation, I don't claim that Collaborative Law is cheap, but I would conclude that it is worth the cost.

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