Why Collaborative Law is still ‘in the cupboard’

Why Collaborative Law is still ‘in the cupboard’

Collaborative trained lawyers look askance when I ask them: “So, why are you keeping one of the best kept secrets of family law locked in the cupboard?”
What I’m referring to is that the vast majority of the general public have never heard of Collaborative Law.  In fact, I’ve met lawyers who don’t really know what it is.

So why would such a practical and cost-effective way of keeping divorcing couples out of court, be kept a secret?

The first reason may sound a bit paranoid but I have been told (and I’m not going to reveal my sources here) that just because a family lawyer is trained collaboratively, that doesn’t mean that they don’t get most of their income for themselves and for their firm from practicing the traditional family law approach – and are quite content for things to stay that way.  I have been told that some Collaborative Lawyers don’t really want to change the status quo.  It’s fine to have it available as ‘an alternative’ – but the idea that is should become fully mainstream and first choice for divorcing couples for whom mediation is not their cup of tea, is just not on their agenda, even though they attend all those Pod meetings and ‘talk the talk’.
I have been told by family lawyers and barristers to my face that ‘Collaborative doesn’t really work”, and “it’s too expensive and the firm ends up losing the clients” and generally that it’s just not a very good idea.  The fact that it seems to be working extremely well for those firms who have truly embraced it in various areas around the UK doesn’t appear to figure in their assessment of it’s viability.
But opposition from non-Collab lawyers is one thing – what is disturbing is that some ‘within’ the circle could also be effectively keeping the breaks on.
The fact that so few firms actively promote Collaborative Law – and by that I mean do more that state it as an available service with a bit of text about it – is evidence that something is amiss.  What I think is missing, is a real vision for how Collaborative Law can really find it’s place in the family law structure, and prove it’s worth.
Apart from a lack of clear leadership and so many detractors within family law circles, it may just be that what we call ‘Collaborative Law’ in the UK is not being practiced in a way that makes it an obvious choice for couples who want to save time and money when divorcing.
One of my sources – who I shall name: Adriana Galimberti-Rennie – has extensive knowledge of the Australian model of Collaborative Law.  She says that what is practiced here is mostly ‘Cooperative Law ‘ – not truly Collaborative.  Adriana’s also seen some of what is available in the US, where Collaborative Law first developed 26 years ago and has been involved in training multi-disciplinary teams of Collaborative practitioners, as the Italian legal system mandated core components of Collaborative law within their civil system.
In the Australian model, the process is an inclusive one, integrated with a full interdisciplinary approach.  So the clients may choose to have their counsellor present, their individual life coaches, thier financial planner, their parenting expert – all around the table at various stages with their Collaborative Laywers.

“Legal systems are about the law, however, individuals seeking to end their relationship experience divorce as an emotional process with legal and financial consequences. Immediately we have a mismatch – one that a truly collaborative approach can bridge.
If you decide it’s time to provide an effective Collaborative service for clients, you’re welcome to contact me to discuss the additional training needed in multi disciplinary work and how to review your fee structure. Isn’t that part of your collaborative positioning anyway?”
Adriana Galimberti-Rennie (Summers): Psychologist, trainer and expert on Collaborative Law 

Not surprisingly, this model has some clear benefits over going to court:

  • Much less time is needed to reach key decisions
  • Control by the couple over who they need to support them throughout
  • The initial cost investment clearly more than outweighed by the cost of using a traditional court-based approach (and there is data to support this)
  • The children benefit: their welfare is put at the heart of the process and their ‘voice’ can be better heard via the parenting/counselling experts included in the process

One big frustration that I have with Collaborative Lawyers who are clearly passionate about making the process more accessible to clients, is how they seem to think it will happen ‘by magic’.  If you really want to share the good news about Collab, then surely the following steps would be sensibe?  And how many Collab Lawyers can tick all these boxes?

  • Benefits of Collaborative Law clearly stated on home page of website
  • Video of you as a Collaborative Lawyer revealing the benefits of the process
  • Articles about you or by you, explaining the benefits
  • Sharing of videos and articles via social media – in particular facebook (not just in private legal Linked In groups!)
  • Is ‘Collaborative Lawyer’ written on your description at the top of your LI page?  Is it on your business card?


Julian McEvoy collaborative lawyer divorce mediator guildford surrey GU
“Few sane people  experiencing relationship breakdown would choose conflict over co-operation: it’s all about explaining the options clearly and at the earliest possible point”
Julian McEvoy of RHW


And why limit Collaborative Law to just divorce?

In a recent and ongoing dispute resolution survey, 92.86% of respondents believe that Collaborative Law is “very useful for creating pre-nups and cohabitation agreements”.
How many Collaborative Lawyers are gaining additional training (where needed) and including those services under the Collaborative Law banner?
Collaborative Lawyer John Stebbing of Stephen Rimmer LLP – who along with Collaborative Lawyer Julian McEvoy of RHW is proactive in promoting Collaborative Law via videos, articles and social media – is considering running training courses for Collab Lawyers who want to use the process for cohabitation agreements and pre-nups – since the language used needs to be (obviously) quite different, and it would be valuable for lawyers to get some training in advance.
In the ongoing survey, only 11.11% of respondents agreed with the statement: ” I believe that all trained Collaborative Lawyers are then ‘collaborative’ in the way they put their training into practice”.
So that means the vast majority (according to this survey) do not believe that the training roots out those who are not ‘truly collaborative’ in the way they work.
If the most successful way for helping clients is to use the interdisciplinary Australian model, then it is vital that trained Collaborative Lawyers first need to feel confident in working effectively with other trained colleagues, let alone bringing in other disciplines.

JohnStebbing-DivorceMediator-CollaborativeLawyer (1)
“Working out arrangements to live together,or marry ,lends itself seamlessly to collaborate with your adviser alongside you. Time,anxiety and cost are reduced with a huge gain from an agreement organised so transparently between those who need it.
Why don’t more professionals and clients use Collab’?!”

John Stebbing of Stephen Rimmer LLP
I am not a lawyer – I have no investment in Collaborative Law other than being able to see how valuable it can be as a resource to families when offered in the most effective format, by practitioners who truly believe in the process.  Isn’t it time that the profession itself got it’s house in order? Because by not doing so, families and children’s lives are affected.
Every opportunity to avoid a court-based divorce – that is lost due to poor publicity, lack of strong leadership and authentic practioners – is an opportunity that we all have a moral obligation to support and try to get it right.  It is not something that most family lawyers of any discipline would wish upon a family – to miss out on viable choices to couples that can also be financially viable for law firms.
So my question is – what’s being done about it?

If you are a Mediator, Collaborative Lawyer or Arbitrator, please complete this anonymous short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Z8X2XD3

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Creator of Best Way To Divorce. International Divorce Divorce Strategist and TEDx Speaker.
Member since:
6th March 2022
Last Login:
15th June 2024

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