Collaborative Law: Establishing Mutual Goals
The first meeting is a time when we sit as a team and we do certain things. One is to commit to the process, and one of the big commitments about collaborative law is that the lawyers will withdraw if the process fails. This is a highly objectionable concept to lawyers who are not trained, because all they can think of is, “I was hired to litigate.” There’s plenty of great litigators out there, and trust me, those of us who are in a collaborative case, if it does fail, we can find you a great litigator. There’s a lot of us out there that are really good at what we do, and we will. The great news is you probably won’t have to do that, because it’s a high-90th percentile of success. One of the reasons that collaborative law is successful is because the lawyers and the parties commit that if this process fails, or if any one of them go to litigation, they are going to have to hire new lawyers, and basically start over. At least that’s how they feel, and the lawyers are out. You got to go hire a separate lawyer. There’s a couple of reasons that works so well. One, it shows you that the lawyers are also committed to moving this through, to this process working, because it doesn’t do them any good to muddy the waters or use this for litigation. The other is that these parties are going to be getting a divorce, and if they’re getting a divorce, the chances are extremely high that at some point in this process, even when we play nice, there will be impasses. We look at impasses as challenges, not things that can’t be overcome, but what it does is motivate them to meet those challenges, to use every resource that they can use, and to move through this process. And the attorneys, and the mental health provider is there to move them through it. The financial professional may have additional advice as to how to move through any of these impasses or challenges. So that commitment is the thing we do in the first meeting. The other thing in the first meeting is to set out the goals that the parties have. Most of the time, this starts us out on a good foot, because we’re looking at big picture goals, and the big picture goal is, “What do you want this to look like? What are the things that you need?” And, almost everybody agrees, “We need our kids to be okay through this. We need to feel that we’re financially secure and aren’t going to be left destitute.” Each of them will say that, and usually agree with the other, which starts everything off very, very well. We don’t always have the agreement, but generally by the time we’re done, the parties have revised those goals. We go back and look at them.