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Collaborative law in lawyers' hands

Collaborative law in lawyers' hands

Collaborative law is growing in popularity in Australia. It's time lawyers consider using it more often, writes Catherine Gale, President-Elect of the Law Council of Australia.

Collaborative law is growing in popularity in Australia. It's time lawyers consider using it more often, writes Catherine Gale, President-Elect of the Law Council of Australia.

Imagine a system that took much of the malice, stress and delays out of the dispute resolution process. A system whereby both parties are represented by lawyers in a dispute resolution process in which all agree not to go to court or threaten to do so. Imagine the heartache and despair so many could have been saved if they didn’t have to face the often intense cauldron of court-based litigation proceedings?

Collaborative practice is the very system that offers this and so much more. First started in 1990 by American practitioner Stu Webb, a family lawyer who had become discouraged by the traditional litigation-based approach to family law, collaborative process supports interest based negotiation, allowing the clients to control the discussion.

Collaborative practice is still relatively new to the legal fraternity in Australia and its genesis can be traced back to 2005, when a group of 25 lawyers, mediators, therapists and others attended training run by Webb. As one of the first lawyers in Australia to take up the practice of collaborative law, I have seen first-hand the positive effects it has for clients.

I took up the practice of collaborative law based on the consistently high levels of client dissatisfaction in the family law process. It is important for our profession to find better ways to service our clients and deliver better outcomes, and collaborative practice offers this.

Despite its detractors, collaborative law boasts a high success rate in resolving disputes, with studies in Canada and the United States showing settlement rates of over 95%. Collaborative practice has become so popular in the United States that collaborative lawyers now practice in over 25 States. It has also spread to Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and many other countries. Anecdotal evidence in Australia indicates similar success rates in dispute settlement and there is also now a significant pool of trained collaborative lawyers in most states and territories.

Just this year the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert McClelland, launched the Collaborative Practice Guidelines, which were developed to ensure consistency of practice and high standards in this new and developing area of the law.

In a further boost for local collaborative practitioners, this month, President of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), Ms Diane Diel, is visiting Australia to discuss trends and developments, and also develop skills and knowledge in the Australian collaborative practice sector.

This is a great coup for collaborative law and, more broadly, the legal profession in Australia. Key activities on Ms Diel’s itinerary include a meeting with the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia Dianna Bryant; a lecture at Monash University – the first Australian University to offer Collaborative Law as a subject in its Law school; an address to the Council of the New South Wales Law Society; a visit to Relationships Australia in Melbourne; as well as meetings with practitioners and other key interest groups.

Collaborative law represents a growing tranche of the legal profession’s dispute resolution process in Australia. I would encourage legal practitioners who are interested to get involved and contact their nearest collaborative law representative body for more information.

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Collaborative law in lawyers' hands
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