Building a successful collaborative practice requires hard work, commitment, money, and a marketing plan. The benefits include control of your time, working with other collaborative professionals, helping families resolve disputes with dignity, and getting paid promptly. If you will make a commitment to collaborative law and are willing to spend time learning new skills, you can build a thriving collaborative practice.
Traits of Successful Collaborative Attorneys. Successful collaborative attorneys provide exceptional service, are confident, and maintain high standards in their practice. They deliver a clear message to potential clients about the collaborative process, are client-centered, and have a strong commitment to peacemaking. They are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and grow professionally. Good collaborative attorneys are transparent, appreciate the unique skills of other professions, and manage conflicts among clients and team members effectively.
Learning About Collaborative Law. After you have done a self-assessment and decided you want to develop a successful collaborative practice, the next step is to master the skills required to manage collaborative cases. There are several good sources of information. I recommend a book published by the State Bar of Texas titled Collaborative Law; Start to Finish, edited by Kim M. Munsinger and written by experienced collaborative professionals. Additionally, Collaborative Divorce Texas offers basic training, advanced seminars, conferences, and useful practice materials. Another helpful strategy is to find an experienced collaborative professional to mentor you in collaborative law.
Build Relationships. Networking with like-minded professionals in law, finance, and mental health is essential for building a successful collaborative practice. Join and participate in a local collaborative practice group and schedule lunches with potential referral sources, including mental health professionals, clergy, marital counselors, and other first responders. Another good marketing technique is to give lectures and seminars to professional groups and community service organizations.
Marketing Your Practice. Unless clients and referral sources know about your collaborative practice, you will fail. It’s essential to develop a balanced marketing campaign to educate the public about your collaborative practice. The essential building blocks of a good marketing campaign include a professional website, an active presence on social media, a productive blog writing campaign, presenting lectures or seminars to potential referral sources, and personal networking with other professionals. If you do these things, clients will come.
Educate Your Staff and Clients. Your staff and clients must know how collaborative divorce fits within Texas family law. You and your staff must know how to explain the risks and benefits of collaborative law compared with litigation, define a kitchen-table settlement, outline mediation, and describe arbitration to clients. Clients must understand that the collaborative process is cooperative rather than adversarial, the Family Law Participation Agreement requires transparency and confidentiality, collaborative attorneys never go to court, and they commit to withdraw if the case goes to litigation.
Answer Client’s Questions. Clients have many questions about the collaborative process. For example, they want to know if one collaborative attorney can represent both spouses. The answer if no–each client needs his or her own lawyer. Another frequent question is how do I know my spouse isn’t hiding assets? Clients commit to transparency, collaborative professionals are trained to discover undisclosed assets, clients are required to sign a sworn inventory and appraisement of all assets, and the divorce decree can include a clause awarding undisclosed assets to the spouse not in possession of the asset. Clients also need to know that traditional mediation is adversarial while collaborative law is cooperative.
The Paradigm Shift. There are fundamental differences between collaborative and litigation attorneys. Collaborative attorneys are committed to resolving conflicts peacefully, they believe clients should control their case, collaborative attorneys advise their clients rather than save them, they strive to maintain good co-parenting relationships between clients after the divorce, they encourage communication between spouses, collaborative lawyers focus on the legal, psychological, and emotional needs of their clients, they encourage transparency, and want their clients to actively participate in the case.
If you want to control your time, feel good about your work, and be a peacemaker, consider collaborative law. You must acquire new skills, maintain high professional standards, and deliver a clear message to clients about the collaborative process. There are lots of good sources to learn about collaborative law, including books, articles, and seminars. It helps to find a mentor and network with like-minded professionals. Finally, you will need to make a fundamental shift in thinking to understand and appreciate the advantages of the collaborative process. If you can do all these things, you are ready to begin an exciting new phase in your professional life.