In much of Texas, and especially in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Collaborative cases are handled by lawyers who use the team approach. Collaborative lawyers are usually the entry point for parties who want to use the Collaborative process to settle their divorce or other family law matter. The lawyers explain the process to prospective clients. If the client is accepted for representation by a Collaborative lawyer, the lawyer usually will help the client provide enough information for the spouse to decide whether to proceed Collaboratively. If both parties end up with Collaborative attorneys, the attorneys normally will decide which neutral mental health professional to bring in to help the parties with communication issues. They also decide on a neutral financial advisor for the parties.
With all that help, some people might wonder if they really need a lawyer, and if they do use a lawyer, what role the lawyer would play in the case. Here are some of the ways Collaborative lawyers work with their clients.
1. Provide explanations of the law. The attorney will review and discuss applicable law with his or her client to make sure the client has any necessary information about Texas law. The parties are not limited to what the law provides, but sometimes the Family Code provides a good starting point. In addition, the attorney may be able to correct some mistaken information about Texas law and that can help the parties start with common ground. Sometimes it is also helpful to learn about the laws or other states and the federal government. That can help generate ideas for solutions.
2. Help you formulate your goals — dig below the surface. The goals are extremely important to the Collaborative process. Identifying goals forces each party to think about the future and decide what will really be important to them. Goals provide a target and focus for the decision-making process that is followed in Collaborative Law. Sometimes an attorney must push a party to really explain why some action is beneficial and that helps the person clarify his or her thoughts about an issue so that the right things are pursued. The goals need to be high level, but somewhat specific objectives. Goals can be revised after the process is underway, but it really helps to make a strong effort at the outset to establish meaningful statements of goals.
3. Prepare you for meetings. Meetings are not spontaneous. They take place at scheduled times and places and follow a set agenda. The lawyers each tell their client about what is expected to happen. Knowing the subject matter in advance allows the parties to think through most of the issues they will be facing. Plans can be made for dealing with tough issues. Questions can be asked and answered privately. We follow a pretty regular format for resolving issues and the attorney can explain where we are in the process. Understanding what is going on helps create a safe and productive atmosphere for problem solving.
4. Review what happened at the meetings. After each joint meeting, the attorneys meet with their clients separately and review what went on at the meeting. The lawyers want feedback about how the meeting worked out for their clients. The attorneys can answer questions and explain how the process is working out, from the lawyers’ perspective. Sensitive issues for both sides can be identified and strategies worked out for dealing with them. If something has been overlooked or not dealt with satisfactorily, the issue can been added to the next joint meeting agenda.
5. Work with the other professionals between meetings. It is sometimes necessary for all the professionals to have discussions between the joint meetings if there are any crises or significant questions that have arisen. They sometimes meet in person, talk by conference call or use email. They almost always meet before and after each joint meeting and will communicate as needed between the meetings. All of that discussion helps prevent surprises and make the meetings much more productive.
For attorneys in Collaborative cases, their roles are different from the way they operate in litigated cases, but the assistance is crucial in helping the parties reach an agreement. The next posting will add 5 more things attorneys do in Collaborative Law cases.