At another closing meeting for a case of mine, the Husband, a surgeon, remarked, “While everyone did a great job being collaborative, it always struck a nerve when I looked at the binders on the table or the spreadsheets presented and everything was titled ‘SMITH v. SMITH’ … why are we using ‘versus’ when we are trying to work together?”
That comment was made in one of my first cases and has always stuck with me. I have made it a practice that all of my collaborative cases say “SMITH & SMITH” from now on – using “&” instead of “v”. The simple things and little details DO matter.
Other comments and observations by clients:
“Why are we talking about the standard of living during the marriage? Why not simply address the budgets for each of us?” LESSON: we call them budgets now.
Instead of a marital balance sheet, we use “statement of net worth” when compiling the marital assets/liabilities.
Instead of referring to the clients by “Husband” or “Wife” we try to use their given names, both in group meetings and among the professionals. Good mental health professionals always ask at the first group meeting if it’s okay to address everyone by their first names. If a client is a “Dr”, it can be a sore point to the other spouse if everyone addresses him/her formally while keeping to first names for everyone else.
“If we are all trying to work together, it made things more contentious when you continued to say ‘my client’ when discussing options.” LESSON: Avoid the dreaded “my client” statements; couch offers or opinions as options for the team to consider.
“Offers”, “positions”, “asks”, and “non-negotiables” never lead to good collaborative discussions. “Options”, “no bad options”, “considering other possibilities”, and “discussing alternate views” tend to be less hostile.
Our cases are built on a dozen details, so remember the simple things do matter to the clients, even if they may not mention them.