As anxious as we all feel, it was reaffirming as a collaborative practitioner to attend this year’s Spring Conference in Austin. From the opening remarks about what has been accomplished in Texas over the last 20 years to John McShane’s militant cry that it’s time we directly challenge the family law litigators to the profound lyrics of Jack Emmott’s remarks about the presence of hope in our everyday lives, the conference had a lot to offer all the attendees.
Austin’s Jonathan Friday shared his highly effective initial client conference technique where he uses the Roadmap To Success as the outline with each prospective client. He begins with Information Gathering then moves to Identify Interests and Issues. This usually leads to a discussion of what their Options may be between Mediation, Arbitration and Collaborative Law and he finishes by describing that they have just walked through the Collaborative Process. He included a comparison chart with his written materials which I highly recommend you consider using in your initial conferences.
The next highlight was the presentation by Elizabeth Ferris of Milwaukee whose 20+ year career as a marketing consultant and business developer includes assisting the original group of Texas collaborative folks establish the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas (now CDT) and help put us on the path to where we are today. Elizabeth reminded us that it will take executing the following steps in order to really impact the Family Law Legal Marketplace:
1) Make a commitment to take weekly action, be emotionally and intellectually bound to a course of action;
2) Relentlessly pursue competence in your practice. With increased skill comes confidence and that is conveyed both verbally and non-verbally to prospective clients and referral sources;
3) Contribute to the collaborative community. Practice groups do the work of establishing connections and make it easier for their members to receive referrals than those that do not belong to such groups;
4) Effectively market your personal brand, not just the collaborative brand. Know your clients and what distinguishes them from others. Stay in touch and cultivate your referral relationships through the use of thought leadership and digital marketing; and
5) Maintain a client-focused practice by always improving the way you deliver your service to clients and “go the extra mile” to exceed client expectations. When clients believe their best interests are protected, the result is a steady flow of referrals from satisfied clients.
Elizabeth brought high energy and palpable optimism to the conference which left us with great optimism about the future of the collaborative movement. There was little doubt that the past 20 years have not been an aberration. Rather, they are the proof that we have a better way to achieve an exceptional client experience and those experiences create the highest marketing impact through personal referrals.
Most importantly, she reminds us that “It is the small things done consistently over time that result in big change. Imagine the strength created by the synergy of collaborative professionals throughout the state taking intentional, consistent and focused action to advance collaborative divorce in Texas.”
On Day Two of the conference Jennifer Leister and Nicole Stover (from Dallas and Austin, respectively) introduced many of us to the concept of ‘Parent Education in the Collaborative Process. Parent coaching addresses such basic issues as recognizing what a child means when they start showing signs of resisting a parent in non-alienation cases or children who aren’t implementing a healthy lifestyle in both homes. For example, Jennifer walked us through her age-specific technique of helping a young child pack their backpack for the exchange between households and the relatively brief amount of time it takes to talk a teenager through what a divorce process could mean to them if they make good use of the opportunity to help their parents help them understand everyone’s positive intentions.
Jennifer and Nicole also discussed the rapidly growing use of Child Specialists for cases of actual alienation, estrangement or enmeshment, where the personal boundaries between people are unclear and emotionally problematic.
Finally, they reviewed the impact of drugs or alcohol and the MHP and CS working together to develop a stair step plan for relapse that allows the user to get treatment if needed instead of being isolated and removed as is likely the case in litigation.
Please take the time to review the conference materials available through the State Bar website. This year’s conference was a cornucopia of rich information, valuable techniques and hopeful affirmation that collaborative practitioners are still on the right track for their clients and the public at large.