An artist friend, Claire, looked at my new business cards, then looked up at me: “Jane, what’s a Collaborative Lawyer? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
Yes, of course it is, if what comes to mind are moneygrubbing, power-hungry lawyer-types (as seen on TV). They don’t spend a lot of time collaborating. True.
TV lawyers argue, investigate like detectives, and carry Dior bags. I am a Collaborative Lawyer and I do argue, passionately at times. But I don’t do crime scenes and I can’t afford Dior (though I do watch the Good Wife and Suits).
What I do: I try to approach problems from every possible angle. Collaborating is not just for arts groups and creative enterprises. We Collaborative Lawyers seek out overlapping interests and intersecting points of view- however narrow. We Collaborative Lawyers know that collaborating on a resolution is possible when we can lay the groundwork that gets people talking at the negotiation table. Highlighting similarities is one way of doing this: it opens up the discussion as opposed to shutting it down.
What I mean by “collaborating on a resolution” is: In the heat of the moment, when somebody states emphatically: “I want the house, period.” And the other person responds: “No, I paid for the house, but what you can have is half,” we know we have a conflict on our hands. But we don’t suggest cutting the house in half (not even just to see who objects). We Collaborative Lawyers know that conflict is not often what it appears to be in the first place. In this case, it is unlikely just about the house. So, we need to ask “why.” “Why do you want (or not want) the house in the first place?
When we Collaborative Lawyers put “why” on the table, we often realize that the conversation needs to turn. In the end, there is no cookie cutter solution to the problem, but we keep talking, knowing that there is a solution. We work together to get to that solution, and to do that, we collaborate!
As a Collaborative Lawyer, I am skilled at extracting salient points and clarifying points of view that will move us toward a resolution. My goal is an agreement that looks and feels right all around.
So, is a Collaborative Lawyer an oxymoron? Sure, if you think a lawyer’s job is to fight aggressively for every piece of furniture in the house and every cent you might be entitled to by law.
A Collaborative Lawyer though makes more sense if you look at the big picture. A picture that includes people (possibly children) in your life that you can’t cut in two. As your Collaborative Lawyer, I will remind you of that big picture and give you as many tools as possible to manage the conflict more effectively.
Your future self will thank you for the work you do now with your Collaborative Lawyer.