Published (with a different title) in 2004 in Collaborative Law: A new Model for Dispute Resolution, S. M. Gutterman Editor, by Bradford Publishing.
This chapter is divided into five parts. The first section discussed the integration of the three domains of law, mediation and psychology. The second section deals with theoretical issues of collaborative lawyering and divorce coaching. This is followed by a review of the vocational profiles of collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches and a discussion of the implications for collaborative practice. The fourth section addresses the pragmatics of creating an inter-disciplinary group. The final section describes working in inter-disciplinary teams .
Collaborative Family Law represents a massive paradigm shift for family lawyers from adversarial to collaborative processes in the resolution of family law disputes. It is a grassroots movement of family lawyers that is growing very rapidly, as one lawyer at a time chooses to work collaboratively rather than in an adversarial fashion . This shift opens the door to a multitude of new professional associations and accompanying practice approaches that can encourage fresh dialogue between professionals and assist families through the transition of separation and divorce.
Collaborative Family Law offers another option on the dispute resolution continuum for families navigating the transition of separation and divorce. In addition to the do-it-yourself divorce, mediation and litigation, Collaborative Law provides a fourth choice in this continuum ,
In Collaborative Law, the three domains of law, mediation and psychology can work together in a coordinated fashion to provide support to these families. Rather than working independently with the same families, sometimes even at the same time, lawyers and therapists (divorce coaches), all trained in mediation, can now put their collective wisdom together in the best interest of the family.
Collaborative Law creates an opportunity to bring the discipline of psychology into close association with law and mediation. Traditionally the discipline of law has been combined with the theory and practice of mediation and conflict resolution to assist couples and families through separation and divorce. To this end, lawyers have acted as legal counsel or as lawyer mediators. Equally, the discipline of psychology or psychotherapy, specifically family therapy and child development, also has been combined with the theory and practice of mediation and conflict resolution to assist couples and families in these and other circumstances. Therapists have acted as therapists or as therapist mediators to help families in distress.
Collaborative law makes two important shifts from these practices. First, Collaborative Law provides the forum in which clients are directly supported in one-on-one relationships with their lawyer and/or their divorce coach. This is in contrast to the process of mediation in which mediators act as neutrals to help the couple reach settlement rather than represent or advocate for one client in the couple. Acting as a neutral means that the mediator carries the same responsibility for each client. Although mediators can work together in co-mediation, in which there are two mediators working together, the prevailing assumption remains that each mediator is still acting as a neutral. In Collaborative Law, each collaborative lawyer or divorce coach has a primary client. If this client is in need of direct support or the situation requires that this client receive feedback on negative effects of their behavior on other members of the family system (children or other spouse), it is up to their divorce coach or lawyer to deliver the news, embedded, as it will be, in the strong one-on-one working relationship that has been developed. Nevertheless, the goal remains, as in mediation or family therapy, to find life-enhancing solutions that create the highest possible quality of life for everyone in the post-separation family. As a family therapist, I would call this ‘systemically sensitive advocacy’; that is advocacy or support that keeps the entire family system in view, especially the other spouse and the children.
Second, the inclusion of psychology in this combination of related disciplines creates an opportunity for the elements of the family other than the legal aspects to also be recognized as important and worthy of attention. In mediation, the fairness (or health) of the legal aspects of the outcome is protected by the obligation of the parties to have their agreement reviewed by independent legal counsel. In this way, the legal aspects of the agreement remain central to the process even though the mediator, regardless of their background, is not acting as a lawyer.
But what of the other aspects of the agreement or of the process to reach the agreement? In traditional mediation there is no obligation for the couple to seek independent psychological advice regarding the impact of the agreement on the individuals, the couple, or the children involved. Even if the mediation is provided by a lawyer mediator or a mediator with no family therapy or child development training, there is no obligation to have the agreement reviewed. Thus there is no safeguard, parallel to the requirement of independent legal advise, that assures the psychological or relational well-being of the process or the outcome. The combination of therapists working as divorce coaches, together with collaborative lawyers creates a safeguard for the non-legal aspects of the transition.
The integration of these disciplines provides a wide spectrum of possibilities that can respond to different types of clients and different types of relationships. There are many different types of divorces (Ahrons & Rodgers, 1987). Some clients may be fairly emotionally resolved about the separation. These clients may have the resources, both emotional and other, to make it through the process fairly smoothly. On the other hand, for other clients there may be a high level of conflict. Equally, some clients are traumatized by their divorce. Or, it may be that they were not functioning well as an individual before the separation. In these cases, the issues that predate the separation are part of the reason for the separation. Additionally, these same issues may be making the separation process very difficult. Lawyers and therapists working together can respond to the wide range of clients who experience divorce.
It is important to note that any aspect of psychology may become relevant given the unique characteristics or experiences of the family . For example, in addition to the separation process, families may be dealing with substance abuse, vocational transitions, mental illness, significant gender issues, power imbalances in the couple relationship, extreme differences in parenting styles or children’s issues such as learning disabilities, sibling conflict, developmental delays, etc.
Nevertheless, divorce coaching, although provided by therapists, is not open-ended therapy (Gamache, 2003) . Rather it is a specific subset of all therapeutic approaches and skills that has been defined as ‘brief, goal-oriented systemic’ therapy (Roussos, 2003). Divorce coaching is defined by three essential aspects.
1. It is time-limited, generally ending with the signing of the separation agreement. At the same time the family may return to their divorce coaches if there are problems related to the separation in the future.
2. It is directed to the problems of the separation and divorce. Problems not related to the separation are referred to outside therapists when necessary.
3. It is systemic in that it relates to the entire family system, especially the children. Even though each client is the responsibility of one divorce coach, each coach keeps the entire family system in view and would not support decisions that would cause unnecessary hardship to another family member. (See the chapter on divorce coaching in this volume for an in-depth description of this process, including a brief introduction to systems thinking.)
The combined teamwork of two collaborative lawyers and two divorce coaches provides a sturdy core structure for the separation and divorce process. In the therapeutic community we refer to the idea of containment, the power of a working relationship to contain or hold strong emotion. The structure of the core collaborative team provides such containment in the face of the strong emotion that can be an element of the separation process.
As such, divorce coaching does not represent a paradigm shift for therapists in the same way it is for lawyers. Rather, divorce coaching is a new application of pre-existing theory and practice. The shifts for divorce coaches are to find a balance between the individual and the systemic aspects of the work and to remain within the brief and goal-oriented limits to appropriate areas of intervention. Given that these clients are beyond couples therapy, their level of conflict may be higher than that which a typical couple therapist would generally encounter. Finally, divorce coaches work in teams with other coaches and with collaborative family lawyers. For those accustomed to working independently in private practice, this may require substantial administrative as well as process adjustment.
At its best, the collaborative law process allows the seamless integration of all aspects of the family transition; legal, financial, emotional, and that which relates to children. Collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches continue to work in their professional capacities as lawyers and therapists, integrating mediation and conflict resolution skills, to create a safe forum in which to bring the necessary information and processes to their clients as the work unfolds. Further, the collaborative process allows the coordination of the work of the various disciplines, rather than the independent or at best, arms length professional relationships that have existed previously. The power of the integration of these three domains is substantial. As collaborative law continues to grow, develop and to become more sophisticated, there is no end to the innovation that these three domains, working together in inter-disciplinary practice can create.
DIVERSITY OF COLLABORATIVE LAW GROUPS
Since the initial idea of Collaborative Law was articulated and developed by Stu Webb and the first attempt at describing an inter-disciplinary process was elucidated by the Collaborative Divorce SM group in California, many of us have attended various trainings, returned home to our communities and put our efforts toward making this way of working a reality. As time has past, different models have developed, each interpreting Collaborative Law or Collaborative Divorce SM, slightly differently (Cameron, in press).
Family Lawyers and Auxiliary Professionals
This model is most similar to what lawyers were doing prior to the advent of Collaborative Law. Lawyers use the Participation Agreement as a corner stone that defines the process and stipulates that the settlement will be out of court. In this model, lawyers may send their client out to work with a therapist, they may send clients out together to work with a therapist or mediator, or they may include a financial planner for input into financial matters. These collaborative groups tend to have only lawyers as members, although some groups may have other professionals as associate or non-voting members. The therapists working with these groups tend to be those who have previous relationships with the lawyers providing assessments or other reports to the court. Therapists who have been working with families outside the legal system are not likely to be involved with these groups.
Collaborative Divorce SM
Collaborative Divorce SM evolved from the innovative work of Peggy Thompson, PhD, Rodney Nurse, PhD, later joined by Nancy Ross, MSW (Fagerstrom, 1997, Thompson, 1999). In this model, each client has a divorce coach and a collaborative lawyer. A child specialist and financial specialist are also frequently involved to provide neutral information back to the parents and the team. In this model, the divorce coaches provide a targeted, non-therapeutic intervention, aimed at building spouses communication skills and successful co-parenting agendas. The team is headed by a case manager.
The Collaborative Divorce SM model always uses a collaborative team with at least two divorce coaches and two lawyers. The consistency of the model is seen as important to ensure public accountability and to facilitate accurate evaluation.
The Inter-disciplinary Collaborative Law Group
This model is premised on the Inter-disciplinary Collaborative Law Group in which lawyers, therapists, and financial advisers are equal members. The collaborative groups create a strong community of collaborative professionals who are enriched by the relationships and the exchange of information and perspectives that the non-hierarchical group atmosphere creates. Unlike the Collaborative Divorce SM model, where every couple has the same team structure, the practitioners in the Inter-disciplinary groups first welcome their clients (who could be entering the process through the door of any member of the group) and then assemble a team based on the needs, resources, receptiveness and directions of the clients. Cameron (in press) refers to this model as “the lego” model to exemplify the unique structuring that occurs for each family. Further, the team may evolve throughout the process, depending on the unique experience of each family.
As an early member of the Vancouver Collaborative Separation and Divorce Group, my perspective on how lawyers and therapists work together is from the perspective the third model presented above, that is The Inter-disciplinary Group Model. (For the official and unofficial stories of the development of our group, see Cameron & Gamache, 2002. Also, for more information about the Vancouver group, see CollaborativeDivorceBC.org.)
CROSSING OVER INTO THERAPEUTIC TERRITORY
Lawyers and therapists have been working with families undergoing marital transition for many years. Previously, they have been working in isolation from each other. Now, with advent of Collaborative Law and the accompanying shift for the lawyers, from adversarial to collaborative process, the two disciplines are much more aligned. In fact, this shift would appear to bring lawyers into ‘therapeutic territory’. While the lawyers are not becoming therapists, they are now working in a way that is consistent with therapeutic processes in many ways. Collaborative and therapeutic processes share many values which make up the foundation of our work with clients.
View of Human Nature.
Collaborative law holds a positive view of human nature assuming that clients are essentially good and that they have the competence to work out their own solutions. While litigation does not explicitly describe human nature as negative, it does assume that any strong negative emotion on the part of the clients is derived from the clients themselves and not attributable to the litigation process, as the litigation process is assumed to be neutral and objective. Strong (negative) emotion on the part of the client is interpreted as evidence of client weakness, instability or reactivity and not created by the litigation process itself. The intense emotional experiences (the emotional roller coaster that can be a part of any separation made even more intense by the adversarial system) are attributed to the qualities and characteristics of the client rather than the adversarial nature of the litigation process. In Collaborative Law, it is assumed, until proven otherwise, that the clients have the capacity to work to resolve the issues at hand.
Do No harm
The practice of Collaborative Law seeks to ‘do no harm’. Nancy Cameron (in progress) describes the juranic effects of litigation. Juranic refers to the negative effects of the adversarial system on the client as it works to bring a just outcome. This is similar to the iatrogenic effects of medicine in which the patient is harmed as a function of diagnosis or treatment. The collaborative lawyer works from a position of ‘do no harm’. This is consistent with the first rule of ethics for therapeutic practice; to do no harm.
Equally, the collaborative process seeks to be a ‘self-determination model’ in which the clients are in control of the outcomes. In litigation lawyers are assumed to be in control of the process and outcomes. It is further assumed that clients do not possess the skills or knowledge to inform the legal process. Collaborative law is like the therapeutic process in which the lawyers and divorce coaches are responsible for creating a process in which clients can work to resolve the issues of their separation. Clients are assumed to have knowledge and skills that are vital aspects of the process and the outcomes.
Collaborative family law assumes that clients are active participants in the process, similar to a vehicle in which everyone has a steering wheel. Litigation requires that the lawyers ‘act for’ the clients as the clients cannot ‘act for’ themselves. The process of Collaborative law is consistent with the therapeutic process in that the clients are an integral part of the team and not passive receivers of others actions and decisions.
The assumption of clients as good, competent and active participants creates a process in which power is equally distributed between the clients and the professionals, similar to the process of family therapy. All players can make observations and suggestions regarding goals and process.
These assumptions also create a forum in which the process is transparent. In litigation, lawyers are often working in ways that the client does not witness. In contrast, collaborative lawyers do the bulk of their work in front of and in conjunction with their clients. While there are occasional team meetings and a few documents to prepare, the process itself includes the client and is self-evident. Again, this is consistent with the therapeutic process of family therapy in which virtually all of what transpires includes the client and is readily available to them. Clients are also free to question the professionals regarding their perspectives and/or choice of actions.
In summary, the shift from adversarial to collaborative processes in family law has brought collaborative lawyers into therapeutic territory. Like the therapeutic process, Collaborative Law seeks to do no harm, assuming a positive view of human nature, attributing the right of self-determination to clients and considering clients to be active participants in a transparent process.
WHAT ABOUT THE CLIENTS EXPERIENCE?
In the process of collaborative family law, lawyers used both mediation and advocacy skills; a combination of advocacy and neutrality or systemically sensitive advocacy as discussed earlier. Thus it would seem that clients may have a different experience of their relationship with their lawyer than in the traditional litigation process. When working as mediators, lawyers remain neutral. In contrast, collaborative lawyers combine mediation skills with collaborative representation of their client. This may give the client an experience of greater intimacy and safety in their relationship with their collaborative lawyer. This greater intimacy further supports the perception that collaborative lawyers have crossed over into therapeutic territory.
It also begs the question, Are clients safe? Is their heightened sense of safety warranted or are they putting themselves at risk given that their lawyer is in fact not trained as a therapist nor are they intending to work as a therapist with their client.
Dr Julie McFarlane (2003) asks this question as she gives us the first glimpse into clients’ experience of collaborative law and collaborative lawyering. She has conducted a 3-year study into the clients’ and professionals’ experience of Collaborative Law. Using a qualitative design, Dr McFarlane conducted extensive interviews with collaborative professionals and clients entering, during and concluding the collaborative process..
McFarlane (2003) suggests that clients are noticing the difference in their relationships with their collaborative lawyers. She raises the following issues for collaborative lawyers. Again, these issues seem to reflect the ‘therapeutic territory’ of collaborative lawyering.
1. Are collaborative clients paying for intimacy with their lawyer?
As collaborative lawyers combine advocacy and mediation skills, clients can experience the relationship as closer, leading them to question if this is intimacy that one pays for. Clients of therapists are prepared for, and are in fact expecting that they will pay for a therapeutic ‘relationship’. Further, the therapeutic relationship will have very clear boundaries. For collaborative lawyers and their clients, this appears to be something to get used to.
2. Clients do the work so why should they pay the lawyers?
Good collaborative lawyering offers clients the opportunity to craft the solutions for their family. The lawyers are there to give information and to support their client through the process. Again, when seeing a therapist, clients expect to do their own ‘work’. Students in counseling programs are taught early on, how to respond to clients who would like the therapist to do their work for them, and how to respectfully give the work back to the client.
3. Clients’ lives outside the meetings may be more influential to the process than what happens in the lawyer’s office.
Appointments with collaborative lawyers, 4-way meetings or any other type of meeting represent a very small amount of time in the lives of clients. Clients are part of complex family systems that are in the process of dramatic change and restructuring through the separation process. Yet these appointment times are meant to guide and support the process of reaching resolution. Life goes on in the family, often challenging what has been decided or unexpectedly changing the direction or intensity of the process.
I often think of the collaborative process as a game of Snakes & Ladders (Chutes & Ladders in the US). As the family shifts and changes through the transition, snakes can suddenly appear that can make clients and professionals feel like they are back at square one. Happily, ladders can also appear that can take the situation out of a seemingly hopeless situation and move the family forward very quickly.
This dynamic is very familiar to therapists. The therapy hour is a very small pin-point of time in comparison to the hours and days lived outside the session. Therapists include in their therapeutic process the impact of what has transpired since the last session. They also use specific techniques to connect the shifts and changes within the session to the daily lives of their clients. Family therapists in particular use the power of the family system to support the desired changes in the family.
4. The role of the value system of the collaborative lawyer.
Without the rules of the adversarial system to guide them, collaborative lawyers are now free to respond to their clients in a more subjective way. The values of the collaborative lawyer are likely to be more obvious.
The value system of the therapist is an important aspect of the therapeutic process. Most schools of psychotherapy spend time working with students to explicitly articulate their value system. Supervision of counseling sessions will often include a discussion of the value system of the student as it relates to the client and their concerns. This could address socio-economic status, gender, culture, race, sexual orientation or any other relevant issue. Therapists must be aware of their own values in order to be able to take responsibility for them when working with a wide range of clients.
Given these observations by Dr McFarlane, it would appear that the shift from adversarial to collaborative process has raised many issues that heretofore were staunchly within the domain of psychotherapy. As lawyers re-tool their skills for collaborative practice, issues of personal values, client process, and relationship boundaries will need to be addressed.
Ironically, it may be that some lawyers have been attempting to work ‘therapeutically’, for some time and that the advent of Collaborative Law finally offers a framework in which to do it. In the 1991 publication of ‘Lawyers as Counselors’, Binder, Bergman & Price overlay basic Rogerian, Client-Centered theory and techniques onto the practice of law. In addition to having a deep understanding of their clients’ experience, the authors suggest that lawyers must address the non-legal consequences to their clients of any legal action. They further explain how 2 clients could have the same legal issue but that the non-legal consequences of identical legal actions could be very different for each client.
McFarlane (2003) and Binder and associates (Binder et al., 1991) raise a number of issues for lawyers transforming themselves from adversarial to collaborative practice. Taken as a whole, these issues beg the question of the person of the lawyer, just as training for therapists must also address the person of the therapist. As in therapy, it may be that collaborative practice may not just be about what you do as a lawyer but may reach much more deeply into who you are as a lawyer. It may be that some lawyers have the personal value system, the professional boundaries, the ‘client-centeredness’ and the requisite positive view of their client that will make them ‘a natural’ at collaborative law.
Perhaps client safety can only be truly guaranteed by the development of the person of the collaborative lawyer as well as their more traditional professional development in terms of education and experience. Perhaps the professional development of collaborative lawyers must expand to include process and techniques from the world of psychotherapy. Perhaps, in order for the collaborative process to truly create a safe forum for clients to do this work, collaborative lawyers must go beyond concepts and techniques of law and mediation and be willing to look inward in order to see their clients clearly and to be able to accompany them through this process.
If this is the case, then collaborative lawyers are well served by close association with the therapeutic community. The inter-disciplinary group model offers the opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and abilities. Therapists benefit from the knowledge base of collaborative lawyers, not only in terms of family law but also in terms of conflict resolution and substantial years of experience with the population of conflicted separating families. For coaches, sending clients to the collaborative lawyers for a ‘reality check’ can be a welcome relief to the ‘relative’ world of emotions and relationship dynamics. Collaborative lawyers also benefit from exposure to therapists in terms of client-centered processes, systemic thinking and specific mental health issues that may accompany the separation process. Similarly, lawyers enjoy knowing they can send clients to coaches when the work has become too emotionally charged to ensure calm, clear decision-making.
In summary, the advent of collaborative law and the subsequent shift in practice for family lawyers has created a multitude of new opportunities for both lawyers and therapists. Lawyers and therapists now have the opportunity to create inter-disciplinary practice groups that support working together as team members to provide comprehensive support to the clients and their children as they move through the process of separation and divorce.
CREATING AN INTER-DISCIPLINARY COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW GROUP; INTEGRATING PROFESSIONAL CULTURES
The practice of Inter-disciplinary Collaborative Family Law is premised upon the use of inter-disciplinary teams that can include Collaborative Lawyers, Divorce Coaches, a Financial Advisor, and a Child Specialist. This process provides comprehensive support to clients and their families through the transition of separation and divorce. The cumulative knowledge of the inter-disciplinary team is substantial, covering all aspects of the divorce process including legal, emotional, financial, and that which pertains to children as well as other psychological or relational issues that the family may have to address. The inter-disciplinary group also offers the opportunity for real relationships to grow between members of different disciplines. These relationships directly support the work of the inter-disciplinary teams. Strong working relationships between team members facilitates effective process when clients are struggling. They also offer a venue for brainstorming impasses and debriefing intense experiences with clients.
The term ‘collaborative’ applies not only to what we expect our clients to do, but also to what the professionals must do for this process to work. Sometimes, it seems that getting the professionals to collaborate can actually be more difficult that getting the clients to do so. There can be considerable inertia when it comes to actually getting the two groups to begin to work together. For example, while collaborative lawyers may be committed to the collaborative process, the degree to which they are comfortable working as team members with therapists varies greatly. Equally, while therapists may have considerable experience working with families going though marital transitions, they may have little experience with lawyers and the legal culture.
Getting the benefit of differences that make the difference.
Putting disciplines as different as mental health and law together can create a ‘culture clash’. However, appreciation for the other discipline begins to grow over time. In fact, these very differences are what make inter-disciplinary teams so powerful.
Exactly how these groups get together will depend on the unique characteristics of your community. If Collaborative Law is new to your community, you have the opportunity of starting your group with the inter-disciplinary model in mind. These are the steps we used in creating the Vancouver Collaborative Law Group.
1. Approach people you enjoy who might be interested in working collaboratively. The energy of a small group can attract other like-minded professionals in your community.
2. Let those in the initial group invite others from all relevant disciplines. Generally those who believe in the principles of working collaboratively will know like-minded others.
3. Try to have meetings that also include some social time in an informal atmosphere. Collaborative professionals need to be able to trust each other. Knowing about common interests or some personal information can help develop this trust.
4. During social time, try to encourage cross-over between disciplines. This can be surprisingly difficult. Light, structured ‘ice-breakers’ may help, depending on your group.
5. When creating committees within your group, make them as inter-disciplinary as possible. Working on committees together is a great way to learn about ‘the other side’. It also ensures that the committee work will cover all the issues of all disciplines rather than gradually sliding over to one side.
6. When you feel ready, bring in a speaker(s) or facilitator. Bringing in people from another more established group can help to learn more about the collaborative process or how other groups got started. Group facilitators can also help develop relationships between group members without necessarily dealing with Collaborative Separation & Divorce.
7. Be patient. It may take longer than you think. Yet, with each new group the process seems to be happening faster. For example, the collaborative practitioners in California met for nearly 10 years before beginning a case. The Vancouver group met for 2 years before starting. Each new group builds on the insights of the already existing groups. Equally, as Collaborative Separation and Divorce becomes better known, the public will be looking for collaborative groups in their communities.
8. Be prepared for potholes in the process. Inevitably there will be frustrations and irritations. Just because working this way is fun and effective does not mean that is it easy. When you hit a tough patch, relax. Look around. Are there aspects of professional cultures that are making it difficult? Who do you feel most comfortable discussing the problem within your profession? Outside your other profession? Could you give them a call or take them to lunch?
Remember, every group has to start somewhere. Progress in new areas like this can feel more like ‘stumbling’ or ‘lurching’ forward rather than smooth sailing. The intention of all members of your group should be to work collaboratively on dealing with whatever comes up. Isn’t this what we are asking our clients to do? To communicate clearly about difficult topics to someone they don’t feel connected to? In a funny way, putting a Collaborative Separation & Divorce Group together parallels the process we are asking our clients to participate in. In this way, the work of putting a group together may sensitize us to our client’s experience in ways that our professional training could not even anticipate.
Another method of group development can be found in Wisconsin. This group began as a statewide group and launched an extremely successful marketing campaign. The integration of other disciplines has been evolving as this very large organization has moved forward from the initial foundation that their early campaign achieved.
Many groups across Canada and the US began as small lawyer only groups. As described earlier, these lawyers sometimes refer out to therapists or to mental health professionals with whom they had previous relationships, i.e., those who had provided assessments or other reports for the court.
Many lawyer only groups are now interested in taking the next step of integrating other professionals into their group. For lawyers looking for mental health involvement in your community, it is useful to have an idea of who you are looking for. Divorce coaches can come from the professional organizations of licensed or registered psychologists, clinical counselors, social workers, or marriage and family therapists. Training in family systems or family therapy is essential to divorce coaching. To find the mental health professionals who have clinical interest and training in relevant areas, look for those who advertise services regarding separation, divorce or remarriage (stepfamily development). The Yellow Pages or other directory of professional services can be useful. Some communities have mandatory parenting after separation courses. The provider of this course in your community may be a useful contact.
For most therapists, the advent of Collaborative Law is a welcome relief. Therapists trying to work therapeutically with families exposed to litigation as well as therapists who have been avoiding litigating family lawyers (and their clients), are generally very excited with the idea of Collaborative Law. Once the word is out in those professional groups in your community, there will likely be no shortage of therapists who would like to be involved. (This word-of-mouth networking will also quickly increase the referral base for the entire group.)
Lawyer only groups can integrate mental health professionals and financial advisors in any way that fits with their community. For some, this means hosting an open-house and inviting these professionals to attend. Other groups have held workshops on areas of common interest and invited mental health professionals and legal advisors to attend.
The most direct way is to host an inter-disciplinary training for all professional groups together. When all disciplines can participate in inter-disciplinary training together, with trainers who practice together, the benefit is four-fold. First, participants are being taught by those who have put their ideas to the test of experience. Second, potential group members can see the working relationship between the inter-disciplinary trainers in action as they provide the training. Third, the new group members are in the same room at the same time, meeting each other, getting familiar with each other. Often the training day is the first time different professionals have ever met. Lastly, the day provides the opportunity to make preliminary decisions about what to do next. Often a preliminary list of members can be generated with contact information. A listserve can be created to facilitate discussion. Committees can be struck to get the ball rolling in the community. The next meeting can be scheduled.
The Vancouver experience in brief.
In Vancouver, the group began as a small study group of interested family lawyers. When Stu Webb, Pauline Tesler and Peggy Thompson came to Vancouver for a conference in June, 1999, they agreed to do a one-day training on Collaborative Law. Peggy Thompson instructed the organizers to “be sure to invite your psychologists!”, and Vancouver’s inter-disciplinary group was born.
We are now four years past that one-day training. Our practice group includes roughly 40 lawyers, 15 therapists and 5 financial advisors. (There are more groups in adjacent municipalities of the Greater Vancouver area.) All members must belong to their professional licensing board and have training in Collaborative Family Law and mediation.
From the beginning, the executive has included one lawyer co-chair and one therapist co-chair. We now have our third set of co-chairs, including our first financial adviser co-chair. The executive and most working committees have been inter-disciplinary.
A course on Inter-disciplinary Collaborative Law is offered annually by our Continuing Legal Education Society. The course is open to lawyers, therapists and financial advisors. The University of British Columbia Faculty of Law offered it’s first Inter-disciplinary Collaborative Law full term course in September 2003. The course was open to law students and graduate students in psychology and clinical social work.
The evolution of the Vancouver group was not without its trials and tribulations. The integration of lawyers and therapists as equal partners was a challenging task. Nevertheless, the synthesis of the legal, psychological and financial perspectives has created a stimulating environment that has produced strong working relationships both within and across disciplines. It now supports us all in our efforts to grow and develop more sophisticated ways of understanding our clients and each other.
In the beginning we sometimes felt like different species, like the lawyers were from Mars and the therapists were from Venus.
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However, over time we grew into more of an inter-disciplinary team that could respond to our clients needs much like a triage team at the emergency room.
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This then became the foundation of our inter-disciplinary approach to providing comprehensive support to families navigating the transition through separation and divorce.
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VOCATIONAL PROFILES OF COLLABORATIVE LAWYERS AND DIVORCE COACHES
As we developed our working relationships in the Vancouver Group, it became apparent that lawyers and therapists had very different styles of working, of communicating, of socializing etc. You name it – it felt different. There were many times when mid-way through a discussion it would become apparent that even though we were all speaking English, (usually as our first language), and using similar vocabulary that we all felt we understood, we actually were not talking about the same thing at all. It became apparent that our implicit assumptions about our clients and the process we thought we were helping them through were also very different. Further, our styles, our personalities, our professional practices and our worldviews were very different. In fact, at times it seemed to be a miracle that we could understand each other at all.
As therapists and lawyers venture into the Collaborative arena, it is useful to be mindful that the characteristics we express are a combination of our personalities and life stories as well as our vocational choices, training and our experience in professional practice. The ‘culture’ of lawyers and the ‘culture’ of mental health professionals can be worlds apart. Sometimes it can truly feel like lawyers are from Mars and therapists are from Venus. (We have not yet figured out which planet the financial advisors are from but we suspect it orbits near ‘Mars’.)
Preferences and Personalities
On days when it seems like it’s just too difficult (not to mention frustrating, irritating, thankless, etc.) to keep working to integrate the various professional cultures involved, it can be useful to remember these two elements of professional life.
A. We self-select for our professions. In other words, the kind of people that we are, in terms of worldview, values, aptitudes and personalities contribute to the professions we chose.
B. As we train and later practice in our chosen fields, we further develop the strengths and aptitudes that encouraged us to chose the field in the first place. Similarly, we do not develop in the areas we did not choose.
The vocational literature can be very useful to more fully understand collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches. This literature is based on theory and research on various professional groups and those who thrive in their chosen line of work. The following is a review of the literature on Collaborative Lawyers and Divorce Coaches. As you are developing your inter-disciplinary group, you can use this information to immunize yourself against the inevitable bruising (speaking for a therapist), frustrations and misunderstandings that will happen.
For this review the Myers-Briggs Typology (16 types) and the Holland Typology (6 primary types) were used. This brief review of the vocational literature shows that collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches have important similarities and differences. Understanding these similarities and differences can help us to understand why both groups are attracted to this work, to normalize tensions that can arise when working together and to appreciate what makes working well together so exciting and deeply satisfying.
The Myers-Briggs Typology deals with the way you like to use your perception and judgment, that is, the way you like to look at things and the way you like to go about deciding things.
Extraversion (E) – you relate more easily to the outer world of people and things than to the inner world of ideas.
Introversion (I) – you relate more easily to the inner world of ideas than to the outer world of people and things.
Sensing (S) – you would rather work with known facts than look for possibilities and relationships.
Intuition (N) – you would rather look for possibilities and relationships than work with known facts.
Thinking (T) – you base your judgments more on impersonal analysis and logic than on personal values.
Feeling (F) – you base you judgments more on personal values than on impersonal analysis and logic.
Judging (J) you like a planned decided orderly way of life better than a flexible, spontaneous way.
Perceptive (P) – you like a flexible, spontaneous way of life better than a planned, decided orderly way.
The Holland Typology uses 6 primary categories to describe preferred activities and interests.
Realistic – fix electrical things, cars & mechanical things, build things with wood, drive a truck, take shop, mechanical drawing, woodworking or auto-mechanics courses
Investigative – read scientific books or magazines, work on a scientific project, build rocket models, work with chemistry, solve math or chess puzzles.
Artistic – sketch, draw, or paint, attend plays, design furniture, play or listen to music, write poetry
Social – write letters to friends, attend religious service, help others with their problems, take care of children, go to parties, dance, read psychology, go to sports events
Enterprising – influence others, sell something, discuss politics, operate own service or business, give talks, serve as an officer of a group, supervise the work of others, meet important people, lead a group in accomplishing some goal
Concrete – keep your desk/room/office neat, type papers or letters for yourself or others, bookkeeping, operate business machines, keep detailed records of expenses, take typewriting, business, bookkeeping, or commercial math courses, file letters, records
These interests are also associated with work values such as:
creativity, management, achievement, surroundings (pleasant), supervisory (wanting supervision), way of life (choice, authenticity), security, associates, esthetic (contribute beauty to the world), prestige, independence, variety, economic returns, altruism, intellectual stimulation
The following description is not exhaustive, since there are individuals from all 16 Myers-Briggs types and all 6 primary Holland types in both categories. The following description is for the most common types in each of the categories of ADR Lawyers (Collaborative Lawyer) and Marriage & Family Therapists (Divorce Coach).
COLLABORATIVE LAWYERS (ADR Lawyers)
Myers-Briggs – INTJ
Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging (Alternates: INTP, ENTP)
People with INTJ preferences are relentless innovators. This applies to thought as well as action. They have confidence in their intuitive insights into the true meaning of things whether or not in agreement with the status quo. Problems are stimulating – the impossible only takes a little longer. They are the most independent of all the groups, sometimes to the point of stubbornness. They place a high value on competence.
INTJs want to see their visions realized and they are willing to work relentlessly to that end. They have determination and perseverance and will work hard, expecting others to do the same. Although they prefer intuition, they can focus on details when necessary.
A weakness for INTJs is that they can overlook other important things that may conflict with their goal. They may ignore their own and other feeling values and may be surprised at the bitter opposition of others who feel their values neglected.
Holland Typology – Enterprising
Values: Success, status, chain-of-command, responsibility, loyalty, risk-taking
Self-perception: Ambitious, extroverted, enthusiastic, self-confident, dominant, persuasive
• Directs and receives energy from the inner world (ideas or impressions)
• Prefers to gather information in a novel or inspired manner
• Seeks general truths and objectivity when making decisions
• Likes to come to closure and act on the decision (organize)
When dealing with information gathering, decision-making or communication issues, they like to debate challenging questions.
When dealing with change or cultural issues they want to work with ideas and concepts.
In terms of leadership, they value ingenuity and logic.
• Using strong ideas and convictions
• Helping team define, decide on, and accomplish its purposes
• Keeping the team on course
Contributes to the team by:
• Offering new perspectives and asking probing questions
• Providing strategic insight and vision
• Synthesizing and organizing ideas and tasks
• Scheduling and completing tasks in a timely and systematic way
Irritates team members by:
• Being single-minded in the pursuit of a task or objective
• Refusing to share responsibilities
• Being unappreciative of others’ contributions
Can maximize effectiveness by:
• Allowing others the opportunity to give input to the process
• Practicing delegation
• Rephrasing critical comments to reduce others’ defensiveness
Influences team members by:
• Being persistent and determined in getting ideas across
• Attracting others through a compelling vision
Irritated by team members who:
• Leave agreed-upon tasks unfinished
• Will not listen to or respect his or her questions or proposals
• Are slow to catch on, need immediate answers, or dispute unimportant details
• Monopolize group time and ignore or disregard objectives of meetings
Compared to Divorce Coaches, Collaborative Lawyers may:
• Focus so much on the bottom line that they ignore the people involved
• Fail to listen to colleagues because their focus is on supporting their own positions
• Annoy their colleagues by trying to pin them down
• Ask questions in ways that are perceived by their colleagues as attacks
• Be aggressive in stating their beliefs
• Fail to explicitly appreciate their colleagues contributions
• View continued disagreement as illogical
DIVORCE COACHES (MFTs)
Myers-Briggs Typology – ENFP – Extraverted Intuition with Feeling
Extroverted, Intuition, Feeling, Perceptive (Alternates: INFP, ENFJ)
People with the Myers-Briggs code of ENFP are enthusiastic innovators. They are good at seeing new possibilities and new ways of doing things. Their impulsive energy is useful for starting out new projects, especially when their imagination and initiative are involved. They also have a concern and caring for people. They can be skillful handlers of people because of their insight into the possibilities and development of others. They are attracted to counseling, especially when innovation is involved.
A weakness for ENFPs is that they are uncomfortable with uninspired routine, finding it difficult to deal with the details of major projects. Further, they can get bored with their own projects once the initial excitement of the inspiration has worn off.
Holland Typology – Social
Values: Service to others, fairness, justice, understanding, empathy
Self-perception: Friendly, trusting, helpful, kind, generous, warm, receptive
• Directs and receives energy from the outside world
• Gathers information in a novel or inspired manner
• Seeks individual and interpersonal harmony when making decisions
• Prefers to remain open and adapt to new information (seeks to understand and collect information)
When dealing with information gathering, decision-making or communication issues, they prefer to communicate in creative ways.
When dealing with change or cultural issues, they want to maximize variety.
In terms of leadership, they value inspiration and a personal touch.
• Democratically soliciting everyone’s opinions, listening carefully, and negotiating differences
• Focusing on areas of agreement
• Developing personal relationships with team members
Contributes to team by:
• Empowering others
• Contributing to creative idea, people-centered values, and unlimited possibilities
Irritates team members by:
• Talking too much or randomly interjecting ideas
• Promising more than is reasonable or possible
• Getting the team off track
Can maximize effectiveness by:
• Pausing and reflecting
• Remembering that what is easy to conceive often takes longer to achieve
• Focusing and closing according to the team’s wishes
Influences team members by:
• Giving opportunities to share, recognizing and validating others’ contributions
• Including team in ideas and visions
• Exuding a contagious enthusiasm
Irritated by team members who:
• Are chronically pessimistic and exhibit a narrow focus
• Concentrate on small details rather than greater possibilities
• Don’t allow everyone to participate and contribute
Across all types associated with Divorce Coaches, there is a preference for making decisions based on a concern for personal values and how others may be affected.
They prefer to:
• Form opinions after considering their own or others’ values
• Seek to understand the positions of opinions of others
• Strive to understand issues from the other person’s perspective
• Expect others to express how they feel about the problem
• Think that arguing is always counter productive
• Ask gentle or clarifying questions to uncover what matters to others
• Strive to treat everyone fairly, according to their particular needs
• Consider how decisions affect morale, commitment, and enthusiasm
• Try to achieve consensus, which will yield the “best” solution
• Consider how to get buy-in from those who will implement the decision
Compared to Collaborative Lawyers, Divorce Coaches may:
• Focus so much on making everyone happy that they ignore the bottom line
• Fail to present objective evidence to back up their positions
• Annoy their colleagues by checking with others before stating opinions
• Withhold information when they are being questioned
• Not be assertive when giving their opinions
• Believe their colleagues are unappreciative of their efforts
• View continued disagreement as a lack of loyalty
The career profile for Divorce Coaches indicate that their core values are Compassion (Empathy) and Harmony. These, however, are also major contributors to burnout in the profession, since day-to-day work involves constant exposure to interpersonal conflict and pressure to be more impersonal, logical and analytical. Another aspect is the thrill of multi-tasking in sessions. This differentiates Divorce Coaches from those who do mostly individual work.
In contrast to Divorce Coaches, the central value for Collaborative Lawyers is Justice; making the ‘right’ decision. There is a personal emphasis in logic and unbiased analysis, resulting in equity (fairness) for all parties concerned. Collaborative lawyers are differentiated from their more adversarial counter-parts by their greater emphasis on negotiation to achieve win-win scenarios.
The vocational literature shows us that collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches have substantial common ground and important differences. Both are strong intuitors, having confidence in their ‘gut’ feelings and hunches about people and ideas, even in the face of opposition from the status quo. Both are innovators, stimulated by problems and developing new ideas to solve them. It is no wonder that both collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches are excited about collaborative law and developing innovative ways to practice.
Both groups tend to:
• Think ‘outside the box’
• Identify the underlying issues
• Generate many possible solutions
• Trust our hunches about what is possible
• Be good at questioning basic assumptions
• Determine if a problem is related to other problems
• See ‘standard policies & procedures’ as causes of problems
• See constraints as challenges to work around or even ignore
• Focus on whatever aspect of a problem catches your attention
• Sometimes be unwilling to fight all the small battles to get new ideas adopted
These similarities contribute to the synergy between the two professional groups. Working well together can be very exciting and deeply gratifying.
At the same time, the profile for each professional group tends to show weaknesses that are also evident in the development of the Collaborative Law movement. The profile for divorce coaches suggests energy and enthusiasm at the beginning of the project but not as strong follow through on the details of the project whereas the profile for lawyers shows determination to work hard to bring their vision into reality. Perhaps this explains, in part, how many groups across Canada and the US have been generated by lawyers rather than therapists. As a therapist, I am continually amazed at how quickly and efficiently lawyers can get things done at all level of organization from our small group all the way up to provincial and national levels. We therapists can seem very slow to get organized in comparison.
The professional profiles also show an area of weakness in the group of collaborative lawyers that may also influence the development of interdisciplinary practice groups. This profile suggests that in their enthusiasm and drive to bring their vision into reality, collaborative lawyers may not notice the feelings and values of others and be surprised by the unexpected reaction of others to their actions. Therapists on the other hand are generally very conscious of emotional process. This could result in lawyers moving ahead quickly, making decisions in groups that are not supported by the other professional groups, thereby working against the cohesiveness of the group.
As two different groups working together, collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches represent a integration of logical analysis (Thinking) and concern for personal values (Feeling). Here are some suggestions to help avoid potential rough patches as you develop your group.
1. Clarify roles ahead of time.
2. Agree on goals that will satisfy the ‘bottom line’ for all who are involved.
3. Support your positions with both logical arguments and appeals to values.
4. Identify the individuals most affected by your decisions. Discuss their possible reactions and prepare multiple contingency plans.
5. Look for common ground as a way to create win-win scenarios.
6. Discuss with each other on the team how you each like to be appreciated.
7. Be mindful that thinkers may see argument as a good thing where feelers may see it as counterproductive.
The integration of marriage & family therapists acting as divorce coaches together with family lawyers working in the collaborative model is a new and exciting development. The combination of these two disciplines brings together the powerful forces of vision, intuition, compassion and justice together with the professional wisdom, skills and aptitudes found in both psychology and law. Being aware of our differences can help to normalize each other’s tendencies and worldview. This can ease the transition to inter-disciplinary groups and help to avoid unnecessary pitfalls.
HOW A COLLABORATIVE TEAM WORKS
Clients can enter the collaborative process through the door of any professional in the group. One of the obvious advantages of the inter-disciplinary group is that with members from several professions involved, information about collaborative law moves more quickly through the professional networks of a number of professions simultaneously.
At the first meeting, the lawyer or therapist makes an informal assessment regarding the client’s ability to participate in the collaborative process. Equally, the professional will be educating the client about the dispute resolution continuum. For those professionals who practice mediation as well as collaborative law, a decision will need to be made by the professional, the client or both, regarding which alternative to chose.
Creating the team
If the choice is for collaborative law, and both the client and professional are comfortable that this is an appropriate choice, then the next step is to get the other spouse on board. The other spouse will need information about the collaborative family law process and names of other practitioners. Lawyers and therapists may have their own procedures for doing this. In general, information can be given to your client to deliver to the other spouse, a letter can be written to the other spouse, or the address of the local group website can be given to the other spouse who is then free to research it on their own.
Once the other spouse is engaged with their collaborative lawyer or divorce coach the process can begin. If the process has begun with divorce coaches, clients may choose to work with the coaches for a time before connecting with collaborative lawyers. If the process has begun with collaborative lawyers, clients may begin working with coaches early in the process, and come back to the lawyers later. Equally, clients may chose to work only with lawyers, picking up coaches as the process evolves. Some collaborative law clients are quite capable of getting through the process without using coaches at all.
When discussing collaborative teams, the issue of cost is frequently raised. Cameron (in press) provides an eloquent response. She notes that statistical analyses show that there is no correlation between income level and whether clients work with lawyers at all when resolving the issues of their divorce. The increase in number of people not using lawyers at all may be partly a reflection of the prohibitive cost of lawyers. It may also be a reflection of the lack of control that clients have over the litigation process. For example, they have little or no control over time their lawyers spend waiting in court to be heard on interim applications, time spent in pretrial discovery, or the length or volume of correspondence between counsel.
Cameron (in press) goes on to say that on an hourly basis, therapists are much less expensive and that it makes common sense for the therapists to be used to address relationship conflict or issues around parenting plans given that this is their area of expertise. Further, Collaborative Divorce Teams and inter-disciplinary groups are finding that couples spend less on divorce coaching than litigants in the same community are spending on psychologists for custody and access assessments. Divorce coaching works toward the de-escalation of conflict and the development of skills for the future whereas custody and access reports do not provide clients with new skills and often have a divisive impact on the family.
Each collaborative process is unique, responding to the unique needs of each family. Exactly how and when the clients move back and forth between collaborative lawyering and divorce coaching will depend on the types of problems to be solved, the choices the clients make and their ability to negotiate effectively at the lawyer’s 4-way meetings. The process unfolds as efficiently as possible. If the clients are working well with the lawyers, the coaches may see them very little. If the legal process bogs down, the clients may come back to the coaches to work out the difficult areas in order to return to the lawyer 4-ways. Equally, clients may feel that the bulk of their work is with the coaches on parenting plan or relationship issues and spend very little time with the lawyers. The task of the collaborative team is to provide what the family needs in order to move forward.
The clients and team members have unlimited choices during the process. Each client and team member is free to make suggestions or to comment on the process. The most common elements of the process are individual meetings with a coach or lawyer, 4-way meetings with 2 coaches and clients or 2 lawyers and clients. These meeting make up the bulk of the work. In addition, 5-way meetings in which a child specialist or financial specialist is reporting back, 6-way meetings (both clients, both coaches and both lawyers) and team meetings (coaches and lawyers) can be very useful.
Individual meetings, or one-on-one meetings can be with either the coach and client or the collaborative lawyer and client. These meetings serve to build the relationship between client and their coach or lawyer. Clients can have candid conversations and practice expressing their views. Lawyers and coaches can also use this time to support their client. Equally, both lawyers and coaches may use individual sessions to give feedback on the reasonableness of their client’s desires and the appropriateness of their behavior at the negotiating table. Further, coaches can use individual sessions to incorporate any therapeutic technique within the brief, goal-oriented, systemic framework that they believe will assist their client.
Once the client is ready, 4-ways are scheduled. Generally one or two individual sessions are required before moving into a 4-way.
The first 4-way is scheduled once clients have met with either their collaborative lawyers or divorce coaches and feel ready to begin working with their spouse directly in either a coaching or legal forum. Both lawyers and therapists will have specific goals for the 4-way meeting.
Lawyers often have a very specific agenda of clearly identified topics. Divorce coaches may have some clearly defined topics. They may also have charged emotional issues to deal with. Although coaches work with their clients beforehand to determine their concerns and identify what they wish to discuss at the 4-way, the more emotional nature of coaching work makes is such that the emotions associated with the issues may become the focus of the session. This is not wasted time as the emotional issues are often what are holding the problems in place. Once the emotional work can be done sufficiently, knowing it may not be completely resolved, many of the concerns can be relatively easily addressed.
Generally both lawyers and divorce coaches will book several 4-ways in advance. This has several advantages. First, it is much easier to cancel than to align the schedules of 4 busy adults and related children. Second, as the process unfolds, the work may shift toward the lawyers or toward the coaches. Meetings with coaches or with lawyers can be cancelled if it seems the other must happen first in order for the process to make sense.
As the process moves forward, clients and professionals will have a sense of what is important at any particular time. There is usually easy consensus about how the 4-ways proceed. Individual meetings can happen throughout depending on the client’s experience.
These meetings are generally between the collaborative lawyer, the divorce coach and the client. 3-ways are not used frequently but can be very useful when necessary. A likely scenario could be when a client is struggling with a difficult issue that has both legal and emotional consequences such as relocation. Another possibility is when a client has to receive some difficult feedback, such as very painful information from the child specialist.
3-ways are also useful if the client is considering pulling out of the process. Having both the divorce coach and collaborative lawyer present can help give a more complete ‘reality check’ about the collaborative and litigation processes as well as work with the client around their emotional experience associated with the possible decision to withdraw from the process.
5-way meetings are generally meetings in which information is coming back to the team from a child specialist. When the child specialist’s feedback has legal as well as emotional implications, lawyers are included in the meeting. In this way the child specialist gives their information only once. Equally, all team members can hear all the questions posed to the child specialist and hear all the answers. This serves to minimize the opportunity for misunderstanding or for the same information carrying a slightly different nuance in two or more conversations.
Usually a 5-way meeting will also include the team brainstorming what should happen next. The outcome of the child specialist feedback will be discussed and it will be decided how and when the parents will receive the information. At this time, up-coming appointments are identified so that the clients will receive the information in a timely fashion.
These meetings are very rare. Not every family will need one, and if necessary, usually only one will take place. 6-way meetings are ‘the buck stops here’ meetings. They are usually suggested when clients are stuck and are going back and forth between coaching and lawyer 4-ways on the same issue. They are well versed in all aspects of the problem but cannot seem to get through it.
The purpose of the 6-way is to resolve the impasse. Often it is the last issue that needs to be resolved. It could also focus on the central issue that is holding everything else up, i.e., the sale of the family home.
Generally it begins with the team having some time together before the clients arrive, followed by a quick check-in with clients. The agenda is usually understood but stating it clearly is a good place to start. With the collective attention of both clients, both divorce coaches and both collaborative lawyers, the issues become very clear. Equally, the clients are very well supported.
Time frames vary. Some clients want the meeting to be open-ended so that everyone can stay until the issue is resolved. Others prefer a shorter, specific time period.
Although intense, 6-way meetings are very effective at helping the family move forward through a difficult passage. They do not guarantee resolution of the problem. However, if both clients are there in good faith, it can be a powerful way in which to pull all aspects of the problem together and to resolve it sufficiently for the family to move on.
Team meetings include the two collaborative lawyers, two divorce coaches and possibly a child specialist or financial advisor. These meetings represent the highest level of inter-disciplinary process possible.
A team meeting can be called when anyone in the team feels stuck or feels they are starting to lose their perspective. This can happen when it seems there are no workable solutions. Another hazard is when the conflict in the couple hits the team. This can happen when the lawyers or coaches end up locked in the perspectives of their clients and the team has become polarized. At this time it is crucial to hear the other side of the story. A team meeting can help to diffuse the conflict, restore perspective and bring the team relationships back on track. Remember, if the team is stuck, everybody is stuck.
Scheduling a team meeting can take some patience. Early morning or late in the day are good places to start. They generally happen over teleconference.
Informal team meetings can occur at general Collaborative dinner meetings or case conferences . These occasions provide a very convenient opportunity for team members to informally touch base with each other.
As the team members share their experiences of working with the clients, a composite landscape of the family is created. With this composite comes clarity on the issues and insight into the nature of the family system (i.e., the dynamics of how everyone operates together rather than as an individual in your office). It also provides a reality check on each client’s story. What is the grain of truth within the outrageous story? It also provides an opportunity for discipline specific information to be shared amongst team members.
Team meetings also provide release. The Collaborative team ‘carries’ the conflict of the family. This can be taxing for individuals and for working relationships with colleagues too. The team meeting provides an opportunity for release from the tension of the family conflict and generates trust in the team, reinforcing and strengthening the relationships between team members. It can provide a very necessary reality check for the professionals, (i.e., Am I crazy or does it seem like this to you too?) and an opportunity to share hunches. Strong relationships between professionals make a strong safety net for the family. Team meetings can also have some very funny moments. Laughter can help to reduce stress and indicates a healthy team.
Finally, the team meeting provides a forum for efficient problem definition, brainstorming, and approaches to problem-solving. Action plans can be coordinated. What is the appropriate sequence of events for the family? If there is a problem, who is in the best position to address it? With whom? All of this can be addressed in an efficient and informal manner within the team.
This chapter has addressed lawyers and therapists working together. The integration of the domains of law, mediation and psychology create a strong base from which to generate theory and practice in collaborative law. The inter-disciplinary collaborative law practice group brings collaborative lawyers and divorce coaches together. Their aptitudes, interests and professional experiences combine to make a strong foundation from which to draw services for clients navigating separation and divorce. Through individual meetings, 4-way meetings and various other combinations, clients can be successfully assisted to create unique solutions specific to their own family and to move forward into successful post-separation families.
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