Collaborative Law was conceived by the highly regarded North American lawyer, Stuart Webb, who had a family law practice. While working in chaotic but successful cases, he started to notice the disastrous effects these judicial undertakings had on the families, especially when there were children involved. He observed that his clients were never really satisfied because they soon discovered that in family litigation there are never any winners — everybody loses.
Webb then reformulated his practice in a simpler and revolutionary way: he continued to work as an attorney, dedicated to defending his clients’ real interests but started to focus exclusively on the construction of settlements without resorting to litigation.
At the same time psychologist Peggy Thompson and lawyer Pauline Tesler were working on how to work with families in a better way, when they heard about Webb’s initiative and revolutionized the field by including professionals from other areas, thus enabling a multidisciplinary teamwork approach.
Collaborative Practice is essentially a multidisciplinary method of dispute management without litigation.
As a guiding principle for this method, families that are experiencing the stress of transition or reorganization should under no circumstance be treated as antagonistic or opposing parties. They require a respectful, comprehensive approach that adequately addresses the legal, emotional and financial issues involved. It is an approach that emphasizes a realistic, constructive future for the family, especially from the children’s perspective.
How do collaborative lawyers work?
Lawyers trained in Collaborative Practice sign confidentiality and no-litigation agreements, thereby limiting their practice to the negotiation process. This process often leads to a successful agreement with completely legitimate legal value. In the event that a total or partial agreement is not reached, the parties must seek new legal representation for possible litigation.
The “no litigation” clause has a transformative effect on those involved in the negotiation. When the lawyers do not represent a mutual threat and work together in a protected environment, maintaining open communication, it is possible to uncover multiple possible solutions without the fear of ending up in court.
The collaborative procedure
The collaborative procedure is based on absolute confidentiality and transparency with lawyers working together so that no party feels damaged or “wronged.” If it is necessary, a multidisciplinary staff, with psychologists, therapists, financial specialists etc. may be called in, giving support to specific issues and qualifying the settlement process. This way the chances of obtaining consistent and long-lasting agreements are significantly higher.
In Collaborative Practices the lawyers work alongside clients to define strategies and lead them throughout the settlement process. In this sense the traditional “let me take care of it” is substituted by a partnership where the client takes on the protagonist role.
The distinguishing feature of collaborative practice is the combination of mediation tools with the essence of the Law. This provides a multidisciplinary staff of professionals with techniques and abilities to negotiate and resolve conflicts in a client-centered perspective. It does not demand neutrality and impartiality from these professionals, keeping their performance in harmony with the core of the profession, which is to defend the client and the family’s real best interest.