By Rachel Slat
Using the collaborative process in cases has made me a better and happier lawyer. It makes my work more rewarding because I can see how the collaborative process better meets the needs of clients and I also get to use different skills and enhance tried and tested ones.
In the highly emotional space of relationship breakdown, we all need to be more aware of what matters to clients. What matters to them is not necessarily what matters under the law. The law and court procedures can act as a brutal editor of what clients want to express and what they want to see addressed.
I have seen many clients feel shut down, not heard, dispirited, confused and at a loss when they are told that what they want to say will not be of any interest to the Judge. This comes at a time when they are already struggling emotionally. No wonder many people feel that our family law justice system is unfair.
Often it is those feelings of not being heard and feeling a lack of control that prevents clients from reaching agreement in negotiations or mediation or before the Judge makes a decision. It is as if clients are mere passengers on a ride where they do not understand the lay of the land or even what the destination might look like. This confusion or dissatisfaction with the process means that clients can get in their own way of moving on with their lives, and they continue the fight, even when they want nothing more than to get on with their lives.
In collaborative cases, it is the clients who control the process and raise issues and events that matter to them and their family. The lawyers have to address these issues and events and deal with the emotion in the room if an agreed outcome is to be brokered. A high level of emotional skill is required for this work. Developing such skills, along with an ability to look at creative options for what the outcome might look like, means that you don’t become stale as a lawyer.
Extending these skills is both exciting but testing. It is reassuring to know that the social workers or mediators involved in a collaborative case can not only assist the clients, but the lawyers too, with their communication skills and how they can better deal with the emotions of the clients.
Working with, rather than against the other lawyer in what feels like a poker game at times, is another major plus in doing collaborative cases. The posturing is removed and instead the lawyers are focused on solutions, which can produce much better results for clients. The collegiality that develops between the lawyers as a result has been so rewarding for me. We are highly skilled professionals with a huge responsibility to our clients at a time of distress.
The collaborative process allows me to extend my skills and deepen my professional relationships and produce outcomes for clients that they happy with. It makes me proud of what I do.
Rachel is an Accredited Family Law Specialist at Slat Family Lawyers in Sydney. She is an experienced Collaborative Professional, currently the President of Collaborative Professionals (NSW) and she is active on a number of AACP’s Subcommittees.