The Collaborative Law Process
The Collaborative Law process looks very different from the traditional litigation process and different Collaborative practitioners will have different protocols for a case. However, the overall concept of Collaborative Law should look similar in each case.
The Collaborative Law process typically begins in one of two ways. Many times both clients will know in advance that they want to go through the Collaborative process and they will both seek out Collaborative Law attorneys. Other times, one person will discover the Collaborative Law process and then invite the other person into the process.
The Collaborative Law process officially begins when both clients and both lawyers sign the “Participation Agreement.” The Collaborative Participation Agreement spells out the parties’ commitment to operate in good faith, disclose all information and work in a respectful, problem-solving approach. Most significantly, the Participation Agreement says that neither party will file a case in court or threaten to file a case in court.
A Collaborative Law case takes place over a series of meetings. The first meeting is usually called the “first 4-way” meeting. At this meeting both clients and both lawyers meet to sign the Participation Agreement and to make sure that everyone understands the Collaborative Law process. There is usually very little negotiation at this first meeting except for addressing any pressing or immediate issues.
A series of meetings will be scheduled following the first 4-way meeting. The entire case is negotiated over this series of meetings. Typically meetings will be between 2 and 4 weeks apart, although the time in between is up to the clients. Clients are assigned homework in between meetings, which usually includes obtaining necessary documentation or getting any information needed for the next meeting (e.g., a property appraisal).
Different professionals may be brought in over the course of the process to assist with the case. These professionals will often meet with clients outside of the negotiation meetings and then will either send report emails to the attorneys or may even participate in the subsequent negotiation meetings. Because Collaborative Law is a client-centered process, the clients choose which professionals to include and how to utilize them.
Once a full agreement is reached, one or both of the lawyers will prepare all of the necessary paperwork. That paperwork is usually filed with the court, although sometimes the Collaborative Law process is used to create a private contract, which may not be filed with the court. Although Collaborative Law cases do not go to trial, you still may have to show up to court to tell the judge what the agreement is depending on what state you live in.