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The value of collaborative practice

As collaborative practice thrives post-pandemic, three accredited family law specialists share what other areas of litigation can learn from it.

user iconLauren Croft 02 September 2021 Big Law
The value of collaborative practice
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Collaborative practice is being used more and more with the rise of digital communication and online working, with such practices only set to become more widely used across the profession moving forward.

Clarissa Rayward, director of the Brisbane Family Law Centre, said that collaborative practice offers a broader consideration within the legal framework – something which no other legal process does.

“Collaborative practice creates a problem-solving framework that has at the heart of it the clients mutual and individual goals for their future.  The “markers of success” of collaboration are those goals as opposed to the perfect legal answer. 


“That is not to say that the legal framework is ignored, it is however one of a broader series of considerations. In family law, the goals of collaborative clients are often ‘intangibles’ such as maintaining positive relationships into the future or raising children with particular values in mind and these are matters that are not always present in the legal framework,” she said.

“Collaboration enables a broad consideration of an individual family’s needs and as a result bespoke and tailored solutions on parenting and financial matters. No other legal process offers this.”

Susan Abrams, director at Abrams Turner Whelan Family Lawyers, echoed a similar sentiment – and said that collaborative practice “leverages the substantial problem-solving skills of lawyers with the support of the people management, mediation, and psychological skills of health professionals/FDRP’s”.

This, together with input from other collaboratively trained professionals (including child inclusive practitioners, financial advisors, and accountants), provides a holistic, tailor-made resolution for issues faced by any family upon separation.

“It does so by those various disciplines collaborating rather than adopting positions, thereby avoiding the inevitably destructive results that adversarial litigation can inflict on a family,” she said.

Shelby Timmins, director at Divorce Done Differently, added that collaborative practice is valuable because it “considers what really matters to people”.

“It is an interest-based negotiation process which enables people to work through their disputes in a dignified and supported way. With the assistance of a multidisciplinary team, who work together, resolutions are found (often creative ones) and everyone stays out of court.

“Collaborative practice should be the starting point for many people and professionals when they consider dispute resolution, not an afterthought,” she said.

“Any area of law where a dispute exists, where the people involved hope to maintain a respectful relationship, are willing to consider the interests and needs of others involved and to stay away from court, may be suitable for collaborative practice.

“Areas such as wills and estates, medical and health care, employment law are all areas of law which are seeing the benefits of collaborative practice. Family law has implemented this dispute resolution process for many years and with great benefit to the people and professionals involved,” Ms Timmins added.

In terms of different areas of law which can benefit from collaborative practice, Ms Rayward said that the sky's the limit. 

“Any area of law involving disputes where the parties are trying to find mutually beneficial outcomes or have a desire to maintain relationships would benefit from the collaborative process,” she said.

“It is being used in estate disputes, employment disputes, abuse matters, and commercial disputes in Australia and overseas.”

Post-pandemic, collaborative practice will only continue to grow, Ms Rayward added.

“I have observed this area of family law practice to have grown significantly and one of the ‘upsides’ as such has been that collaborative professionals from all over the country have been able to form teams as the use of online meeting platforms such as zoom, fast became the norm,” she said.

“Previously this work was largely conducted in person and the restrictions on face-to-face meetings during 2020 and currently have interestingly created opportunities for clients to work with professionals outside of their local area. I have had the pleasure of working with collaborative teams across Sydney that would have unlikely occurred so seamlessly were it not for the pandemic.”

Similarly, Ms Abrams said she had noticed an “uptake” in collaborative practice after the rise of online and remote working.

“I think people are looking for cost-effective, family-focussed, and efficient solutions to their problems rather than protracted litigation,” she said.

Ms Timmins added that whilst collaborative practice has traditionally involved working with collaborative colleagues within your local area or state, “geographical borders are no longer an obstacle”.

“During the pandemic and thanks to dispute resolution moving online and everyone obtaining a certain level of comfort with Zoom and Microsoft teams, we have seen the growth of interstate and international collaborative cases and training,” she said.

“I have been fortunate to be involved in collaborative cases where the clients lived in Sydney and the professionals involved, including lawyers and a financial neutral hailed from different States. I am also aware of my colleagues being involved in international collaborative matters.”

Looking to the future, Ms Timmins said that collaborative practice was “on the rise”, with Australia paving the way in a number of training and professional development courses, webinars, and conferences – some of which she runs herself. 

“More lawyers, financial neutrals and coaches are being trained in the area of collaborative practice than we have ever seen before. Our students enrolled in the introductory training and collaborative group membership continue to grow,” she said.

Ms Rayward anticipates that the growth in collaborative practice will only continue.

“Collaborative Practice is the ultimate in client-centric legal processes – it puts the goals and needs of the client first and we assemble professional teams of lawyers, financial professionals, and social scientists as well as any other experts that can add value and assist in problem-solving,” she said. 

“As more clients are seeking solutions that genuinely meet their individual or commercial needs, we are seeing more and more professionals adopting alternate methods of offering legal assistance.”


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