This post is from Sally Holt Emerson, an Amarillo-based attorney with the Underwood Law Firm, who has been board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law for 19 years. Among other local, state and national organizations, she is a member of the Board of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas, the founding Council of the State Bar’s Collaborative Law Section, and the Texas College of Collaborative Law.
I practice law in the Panhandle of Texas, where there aren’t metropolitan areas the size of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, or Austin. My town (Amarillo) and Lubbock are the two largest cities in our area. Attorneys here usually practice in all of the surrounding smaller towns, and attorneys in those towns come to Amarillo for cases as well.
Collaborative law was not embraced as quickly here as it was in Texas’ larger cities. We have virtually no backlog of cases in any of our 26 counties, and, as a general rule, it is fairly easy to get a case to trial as quickly as the lawyers and clients desire.
Fortunately, in 2007, a group of 15 Panhandle family law attorneys decided it was time for collaborative law to be introduced to this part of the state, and we all attended the basic training for collaborative law. Since that time, our collaborative practices have grown steadily.
There are so many advantages to handling legal matters, especially family law cases, through collaborative law in smaller towns. The biggest advantage is the privacy it affords. At the risk of sounding stereotypical, lots of people in small towns make it their business to know everyone else’s business. This is easily accomplished if there are numerous public court hearings regarding the contested issues in a divorce case. However, if a case is handled through collaborative law, the participants’ matters are kept confidential. It is a great way to keep one’s private affairs private and not the talk of the local coffee shop.
Of course, all of the other advantages also apply, such as the participants’ remaining in control of their own outcomes and being able to create solutions not necessarily mandated or occasionally sanctioned by applicable law.
The main obstacle that confronts collaborative law attorneys and clients in smaller areas is the lack of trained neutral financial and mental health professionals. It is difficult to keep the process affordable if the collaborative team requires professionals from distant locations. As a result, many times collaborative law cases in my area have to proceed without these important and helpful team members. Collaborative law attorneys need to recruit and encourage local professionals in these fields to go to collaborative law training.
Obstacles notwithstanding, collaborative law is alive, well, and growing in our part of the state.