When a couple first starts down the path to divorce, the decisions that need to be made can be overwhelming. At the very beginning, they must decide whether to use Mediation, Collaborative Practice (CP), or litigation. This likely involves first getting educated on how each process works.
Even after deciding which method to use, the couple must still choose a professional with whom they feel comfortable working. If CP is the chosen process, a few professionals must be chosen for their team, including individual attorneys to represent each of them, a neutral coach/facilitator, and financial advisors. Typically the attorneys help the parties to choose the coach and financial professionals, although the parties might start with any of the professional team members.
For the purposes of this article, I will focus on how to choose a collaborative attorney.
Take a Look at His/Her Professional Background.
Those working in Collaborative Law (CL) are usually involved professionally in their area of expertise outside of Collaborative Practice work. In other words, attorneys are usually busy practicing law, mental health professionals are meeting the needs of their patients, and financial advisors are managing their clients’ money.
Spend some time finding out about prospective attorneys’ professional credentials and how effective they have been in their field. How long have they been practicing law? Have they been recognized for any achievements or received any awards for outstanding performance? Do they belong to any industry organizations, and have they served in leadership in those organizations?
Find Out If S/he Has Any CP Training.
The Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council (MCLC) is the premier CL organization in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It offers introductory CL training annually, and all who complete it qualify to join MCLC. MCLC also requires its members to do additional training every two years to further professional development and mandates regular attendance at peer practice group meetings. Those who fulfill these requirements indicate that they take their professional role seriously.
Furthermore, all MCLC members are automatically members of the International Association of Collaborative Practice (IACP).
Beware of what you may find when you blindly search on Google for collaborative lawyers. Because attorneys realize this is a key word prospective clients will use to find them, some add the term to their profile even though they may not belong to MCLC or have undergone any CP training.
Look at His/Her Website.
A website can be a useful way to do a lot of your research without having to dig too deep. Look for evidence of professional credentials and industry involvement, but also pay attention to more subjective content such as client testimonials. Do you feel a connection with the way the individual or firm is being presented? No one person can be all things to all people. But you should be able to get a preliminary “gut check” about whether you could see yourself working effectively with this person based on what s/he shares on the website.
Have a Conversation in Person.
After doing your research, pick up the phone and call to find out what the firm’s policy is for initial consults. Most of the time, Collaborative attorneys will want to meet in person rather than over the phone – myself included. Unlike Mediation, where neutrality is the goal for both parties, in CP attorneys will be advocating for one party in particular. As a result, they want to find out as much information as possible early on in the game. They will want to know the background of your situation as it pertains to divorce, what you have both agreed to so far, and what avenue your spouse is pursuing. They will also want to make sure you receive valuable information about the legal and logistical aspects of the process so that you are informed as you begin your negotiations.
Divorce is never a happy occasion. Even in the very best of circumstances, it is a difficult process. There are no clear winners in the end, and most of the time no one will be thrilled with the results. But if you can come out the other side feeling that you gave your very best effort, and if you believe the settlement is equitable for all involved, you did well. Working with the right professionals is the most reliable avenue to achieving that desired end result.
Even so, however, there is no guarantee of the outcome. Using CP allows clients to determine the outcome of important items like child support and parenting plans to a much larger degree than litigation allows. The goal is not to get the biggest piece of the pie but to find the outcome that serves the parties and their family best in the long run.
What I Bring to the Table
An attorney for over 30 years, I have been involved in the CP movement for decades. I was one of MCLC’s founding members 15 years ago and am also a past president and long-time board member. I have also been a member of IACP for 12 years and am a past president and long-time board member of that organization as well.
I have been voted one of Boston’s Best Lawyer’s every year from 2008-2015 in both the Collaborative Family Law and Mediation categories. I have also been selected as a New England Super Lawyer every year from 2011 to 2015 for Family Law. (This distinction is only granted to the top 5% of practicing attorneys in Massachusetts.)
Today I work exclusively in Mediation and CP. I believe the parties involved are best equipped to resolve family law issues, and so I am committed to helping families through this difficult time as constructively as possible by using non-confrontational methods whenever possible.
In my role as a collaborative lawyer, I try not to be shackled too much by what the law says. Though the law does obviously factor heavily into the equation and I use it to provide guidance, I try to help my clients be as creative as possible in thinking outside the box so that other possible solutions can be put on the table.
To learn more about how I can help you as a collaborative attorney, contact my office at (781) 944-0156 to set up a consult.