This article is from Norma Levine Trusch, a Houston-based collaborative lawyer and former Collaborative Law Institute of Texas board member.
Ever since the Texas legislature passed the Uniform Collaborative Family Law Act, I’ve been obsessed with making collaborative law available for low income couples. Thanks to Jack H. Emmott III and Alissa Ruben Gomez, this is about to happen.
Jack is chairing the Pro Bono Committees of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas (CLI-TX) and the Collaborative Law Section (CLS) of the State Bar of Texas, and Alissa is the Executive Director of Houston Volunteer Lawyers (HVL). Together, we’ve been grappling with adapting the collaborative law process and forms for use by volunteer lawyers, mental health professionals and financial professionals. Our work will be utilized in a pilot project sponsored by our three organizations and utilizing volunteers from the HVL staff, corporate attorneys, and members of a Houston collaborative law group.
Our initial clients will be offered three two-hour collaborative law meetings in which to work out their agreements. Volunteers will have the option to participate in more meetings if they feel that the process has progressed sufficiently to warrant more time. In order for the process to be as efficient as possible, the client couples will be required to do initial preparation on their own prior to the first meeting, including reviewing the simplified Participation Agreement, providing financial information to their attorneys, and meeting with one of the collaboratively-trained mental health professionals to develop their goals and interests and be instructed on the expectations of conduct that they will be held to in the process.
The first training of volunteers has been scheduled for attorney members of the HVL staff as well as corporate attorneys who have been reluctant in the past to accept family law cases because they didn’t want to go to the unfamiliar and intimidating venue of family court. I am very excited by the opportunity to train civil attorneys in collaborative law.
Although they will be trained to utilize the collaborative process in family law cases, they will be learning a technique that they can easily transfer to their civil practices. Since this is a pilot project that we are hoping to replicate throughout the state, volunteer professionals will be asked to provide feedback regarding how the restructured process and the forms have worked for them and their clients. It will be interesting to see if the adaptations we have made will be effective in assisting these families in peaceful restructuring. I can’t wait!