By the time a Collaborative case seems ready to start because both sides have agreed to use the process and both have hired trained Collaborative lawyers, the parties start to get anxious to get the case moving. This is a natural reaction to the discussions that preceded the commitment to use Collaborative Law. Those discussions almost certainly emphasized the positive aspects of the process and how they fit the special needs of the parties. With expectations set high, the parties are naturally anxious to get started with this new, better way to deal with their most stressful situation.
In many cases, unfortunately, it takes a little while to get to the first joint meeting. Understandably, the delay can be annoying to the parties who are mentally and emotionally ready to start solving their problems with this wonderful system they have heard about.
There are legitimate reasons for the built-in delays that the parties are about to face. Here are some of the main reasons:
1. Before the first joint meeting, the attorneys need to have a discussion and put together a team. In Texas, when we use a Collaborative team, the attorneys usually decide which mental health professional (MHP) and which financial professional (FP) will be used. The attorneys try to find other professionals whose skills and experience fit the case well. Once the possible professionals are selected, the attorneys must contact them and find out if they are interested in joining in the case and what their time availability is.
2. Once selected, the professional team will evaluate the suitability of the case for Collaborative. Of course, each attorney has already considered the case and approved it for Collaborative Law, but it’s better to add different perspectives and a quick review so the parties don’t waste their efforts and money starting a case that isn’t suitable.
3. The next step is for the professionals working on the case to communicate and make sure they are working in a coordinated fashion. There are some slight variations in forms used, agendas for meetings, the order of steps followed and perhaps some other things. It is easy to reach an agreement among the professionals, but the discussion must take place so that everyone is clear on the steps and perhaps the timing.
4. Then, the professionals need to match up their calendars to find out when they are available to start. All of the professionals have other client obligations, so it is sometimes pretty tricky to coordinate at least four calendars.
5. Finally, once the parties and team members start meeting, some parties want to immediately start negotiating the settlement terms and we can’t allow it. That’s sometimes hard to discourage, especially when everyone wants to be agreeable, but it’s not the Collaborative process. We follow a “roadmap to resolution” that is a step-by-step process that is very effective. Through experience, we have learned that short cuts tend to make the Collaborative process not work. We have to insist that everyone stay with the normal steps. It really doesn’t take nearly as much time as a litigated case that goes to trial, but we know it can seem very slow if both parties are anxious for the relief of settlement.
The attorneys and other professionals in a Collaborative case are often fired up and ready to get started as soon as everyone commits to the Collaborative process. Unfortunately, there are some preliminary matters that must be handled before the process really begins. Patience is necessary, especially for the parties, but it will be rewarded. With a little bit of work and the discipline to follow the steps of the Collaborative process, the parties will almost always be rewarded with appropriate and satisfactory solutions to their issues.
Contributor: Dick Price (www.pricelawfirmtx.com), attorney in Fort Worth.