Five Tips for Collaborative Attorneys

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What can you do to increase your collaborative caseload and be the best collaborative attorney you can be?  This article provides five suggestions for aspiring and experienced collaborative attorneys.
A client cannot decide whether to use the collaborative process if he or she does not know about the collaborative process.  Tell every client about this option, including clients who are in the middle of a long, contentious divorce or custody battle.  They, especially, may be relieved to learn that there is a way to get out of their current mess.  After the trauma of a long, drawn-out litigation war, these may be the cases where it would be most valuable to use a neutral mental health professional and neutral financial professional.
There is a misperception that collaborative divorce works only for those clients who trust one another.  But you are dealing with two people who are getting divorced, and many spouses who are entering the divorce process do not trust one another!  That is why it is so important to build trust among your collaborative teammates and ensure that you are on the same page.  Take the time to grab drinks or a meal and engage in a team prep discussion where you focus on getting to know each other rather than talk about the clients.  This will not only help you become a more effective team so that you can work through the inevitable difficult discussions more easily, but it will also make the collaborative process a much more enjoyable and professionally-fulfilling experience.
As lawyers, we focus on the law.  It is what we were taught, it is what we do, it is who we are.  And yet, with very few exceptions, the law is not meant to restrict what divorcing spouses can agree upon; rather, the law is meant to restrict what judges are able to do if divorcing spouses cannot reach an agreement.  Rather than think of the law as the end all and be all, we can view it as one of many guideposts that can inform a family as it is making long-lasting decisions.  Other guideposts that may be more relevant  include the developmental needs of the children, each spouse’s future financial security, and the ability to maintain post-divorce relationships.
The other attorney is your “teammate” rather than your “opposing counsel”.  The other client is a “spouse” or “co-parent” rather than an “opposing party”.  You are helping the clients “elicit interests and reach an agreement” rather than “state positions and settle”.  Words matter, and clients will pick up and model the language that you use, whether that language is collaborative or adversarial.  
The most important part of collaborative practice, and perhaps what makes it most different than any other form of dispute resolution, is the instant feedback that is provided at debriefs following team meetings.  However, all too often teammates avoid providing one another constructive criticism because they fear they might hurt someone’s feelings or will not be referred a future collaborative case.  Keep in mind that everyone is looking to become better collaborative professionals.  By not providing constructive feedback, you are depriving your teammates of an opportunity to learn.  Further, make it clear to your teammates that you also want to become the best collaborative professional you can be, and that you welcome their feedback.  When that feedback is critical, accept it in a non-defensive manner and ask how you can improve.
Authored by the Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers: Adam B. Cordover, J.D., M.A.; Kristin DiMeo, CPA, ABV; Jeremy Gaies, Psy.D.; Barbara Kelly, Ph.D.; and J. David Harper, CPA, ABV, PFS, CFF, CBA, CVA.
Tampa Bay Collaborative Trainers offer a customized two-day introductory training in the one coach/neutral facilitator/neutral mental health professional model at a low-risk cost structure that will help you build a vibrant collaborative community.  Learn more and find out about upcoming trainings at

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