Answer: Check qualifications and experience and then get a second opinion.
It’s true that not every case is appropriate for Collaborative Law, and the process may be overkill if virtually everything is already agreed at the outset, but when you visit with an attorney about representing you, the attorney should almost always explain at least a little about Collaborative Law. There is a range of options available to resolve legal disputes and Collaborative Law is often the best choice.
For some situations, Collaborative is not an appropriate option. If a party is mentally ill or has untreated drug or alcohol issues or has unrealistic expectations, the process may not work out well. If treatment has been received and the treatment plan is being followed, the professionals can make a judgment call about whether Collaborative may work. There may be legitimate reasons why Collaborative Law is not recommended. Even though I firmly believe in and encourage the use of Collaborative Law in virtually every case I consider, I have told clients that it might not work in their case, based on some of the concerns mentioned. In addition, if there is already an attorney on the other side of the case and that attorney is not a Collaborative attorney, then it is virtually impossible to use the Collaborative process.
Unfortunately, however, it appears that sometimes attorneys advertise that they believe in, and practice, Collaborative Law, when they really don’t like it. Generally, those attorneys have not been to a two-day basic training. They may have attended one or two short talks about Collaborative Law, but they haven’t had the extensive training needed to “get it”. They realize that more and more clients are educating themselves about various divorce processes and have become aware of Collaborative Law. Some attorneys have just a superficial knowledge of Collaborative Law and use that to dissuade clients from using the process.
If you go see an attorney about a divorce, for example, and you ask about the possibility of using Collaborative Law, and then the attorney immediately starts telling you why you can’t or shouldn’t use the process, or why it wouldn’t work in your case, you should do two things. First, ask the attorney to tell you about all the Collaborative Law training he or she has completed and about the number of cases he or she has completed in the Collaborative process*. Second, go get a second opinion from another Collaborative attorney to find out if the second attorney agrees.
- At least a two-day basic training, followed by at least one seminar or conference a year sponsored by the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas or by a local practice group.
- At least 3 or 4 cases completed, or better yet, 20 to 30 or more. An attorney experienced in Collaborative Law can make good judgments about the suitability of cases for Collaborative Law.
Parties seeking legal representation in family law matters deserve qualified and fair legal advice about their options. If you have any doubts about the advice you have received, please ask the attorney about his/her education and experience in Collaborative Law and then get a second opinion to protect yourself.