Working in a collaborative fashion to settle disputes allows for a more transparent and respectful legal process, and should be better utilised across the board, argues one boutique principal.
In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, following the recent National Conversation Day for the Australian Association of Collaborative Professionals, Divorce Done Differently founding director Shelby Timmins (pictured) submitted that collaborative practice is slowly spreading further than the confines of family law and into other legal practice areas.
Collaborative practice is about working together to settle disputes without going to court, she explained, providing participants with legal, financial and emotional support by accredited professionals, thereby “enabling them to find fitting solutions while maintaining their important relationships”.
“Practising in a collaborative way should be applicable to all areas of law. Collaborative practice can be applied to any dispute where the parties desire a process that is transparent, respectful and out of court,” she posited.
“It is primarily practised in the area of family law; however, we are seeing a growing trend in Australia and throughout the world in other areas such as workplace disputes, neighbourhood disputes, wills and estate disputes, business, commercial and medical disputes.”
Lawyers whose practice area lends to the principles of collaborative practice should incorporate it, Ms Timmins continued, for reasons that it avoids the stress, delays and costs that come with court; it focuses on the interests, needs and concerns of those involved, “rather than positioning and legal posturing”; and it provides a mechanism whereby relationships can be maintained.
An example of the latter point, she noted, would be in a family law matter whereby the parents can develop a parenting alliance for the wellbeing of their children and ultimately the benefit of the community.
It is not without its challenges, Ms Timmins noted, including the idea that a lawyer may be “formally opting out” of the court processes.
But, she countered, “experienced collaborative professionals see this as an enormous advantage of the process where lawyers and the parties and any other professional involved work as a team to assist the parties to come to a resolution that works for everyone”.
Not only this, but wellbeing is “central to collaborative practice”, she added.
“For clients, separating is emotionally challenging and at times extremely distressing. Collaborative practice focuses on understanding and supporting all involved emotionally. For example, in the family law space, care is taken by the lawyers, health professionals and financial specialists to understand the client’s needs,” she explained.
“Assistance comes in the form of emotional support, information about finances and co-parenting and support in decision-making. This expert support ensures the clients’ current and future wellbeing.
“For lawyers, health professionals and financial specialists, the focus is on working as a respectful team. Conversations are always respectful, ideas welcome and shared, interventions with clients considered and agreed to by all team members. Team members support each other, professionals are encouraged to share their experiences of the process, through debriefing, with each other without judgement.
“By treating everyone involved with respect, collaborative practice enables participants to solve disputes in a way that preserves the dignity of the parties and avoids the stress of litigation.”
It is also conducive to the mental health and wellbeing of the legal and other practitioners who engage in the process, she concluded, in that it avoids the stress of litigation for them as well.
“It is a space in which the respect of all parties is central, and it enables them to collectively achieve positive outcomes for clients, thereby enhancing their sense of purpose and contribution.”