Collaborative law is an alternative to court. Both clients and both lawyers sign an agreement confirming that they will not go to court. If one party later decides that they do want to litigate both lawyers must stop advising their client and both parties must change law firms. This provides a very strong incentive for both parties to remain with collaborative law even when things feel difficult.
All issues are discussed in a 4-way meeting. Both lawyers must complete extensive training before they can offer collaborative law. Clients need guidance to enable clear communication and discussion so that the negotiations are focused during the face to face meetings.
During a 4-way meeting each lawyer will put forward your case but can also provide advice in the meeting so that both parties hear the same thing in a transparent way. Sometimes particular points are agreed quickly. If there is a dispute and a client decides they want to apply to the court for a judge to determine an issue then the parties have to decide whether to end the process and start again with different lawyers or take a gamble with what a judge would order.
Before the first 4-way meeting takes place both lawyers will meet, or talk on the telephone, to prepare and set an agenda. The number of 4-way meetings is not fixed and each case is different. Meetings tend to alternate between the offices of both lawyers. What happens during a 4-way meeting is confidential and if the process were to collapse neither party can refer to the discussions you have had in future court proceedings. This allows people to talk freely and suggest opinions that might not be put forwards at court as provided an arrangement works for your family it can be agreed.
Once there is an agreement the documentation is drafted and sent to the court for approval. By comparison with mediation more time is spent by lawyers in collaborative law. There is usually a follow-up meeting or discussion between the lawyers to prepare for the next steps so this can make collaborative law more expensive than mediation or arbitration.
The strength of collaborative law is that the lawyers who draft the final agreement have been with you throughout the negotiations. The chance of things becoming stuck at the end of the process, which can sometimes happen in mediation and cause lots of tension, is minimised.
Collaborative law is not right for every case. If there is a history of abuse it is not appropriate. If both parties are unable to commit to the process or communicate well the process will be difficult. Also, if there is an inequality of knowledge it can be a challenge to ensure the collaborative process works well. However, for those clients who fully engage with collaborative law the feedback at the end of the process is overwhelmingly positive.
If you would like to talk to someone, please contact any of our offices.