Two things immediately come to mind when I am being interviewed by a prospective collaborative client: First, how do we get the other spouse to agree to use the collaborative process ; and Second, I hope I know the other lawyer. This is entirely because assembling a collaborative team is always so much easier when the other lawyer is something of a known quantity. It makes the initial evaluation and communication period, that time prior to the signing of the Collaborative Agreement, so much simpler. If I have previously worked with that lawyer, and we have already established a level of trust, we can be open from the start in discussing what we should keep in mind in forming the team.
I think it is important to always start the team creation process with my client as opposed to the other lawyer. I have to assess my client’s initial set of concerns, goals, financial skills, social skills, etc. I often use the CDT Workbook materials as a jumping off point before I confer with the other lawyer. We discuss the several skills needed on the team with an emphasis on all the factors that will make both clients the most comfortable: level of experience, issues with the children, affordability, gender and so forth. For example, does my client have any budgeting experience? This gives me the additional opportunity to run through planning and expectation scenarios to help manage the other spouse.
Of course, the next step is to review what I know about the clients with the other attorney and see how much overlap already exists in terms of personalities, issues and expectations. This leads to our initial list of potential team members and who might be the best fit. Often, we will agree to call each potential team member together in order to check their schedules and gauge their initial responses to our client’s specific circumstances. More often than not, we have to narrow the list due to scheduling conflicts, but, I try to listen carefully to each Neutral’s comments in order to confirm their fit on the team. I also try to include at least member of the team that I haven’t worked with before. This is where the real work in assembling the team hits a critical junction. Some clients will want to interview each potential team member and some team members will want to interview the clients for the same purpose: Compatibility.
The clients will always bring certain intangibles to their divorce, their baggage from the divorce, friends with their advice and unrealistic expectations for the results of their divorce. This is where the team dynamic must juggle the constantly evolving picture of the family to support the ultimate goals outlined by each spouse.
I try to keep a historical catalogue of the successes and failures of past teams in order to repeat the positive outcomes and avoid the negative ones. No one team can fit every collaborative divorce and sometimes one or more team member needs to be substituted in order to achieve the best outcome. Keeping an open mind and listening carefully to the clients will best serve this process. Good luck!!