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Collaborative practice training should be ‘compulsory’, family lawyers say

Collaborative practice has proven extremely valuable to these family lawyers – but according to them, a number of practice areas could benefit too.

user iconLauren Croft 09 September 2021 SME Law
Collaborative practice training should be ‘compulsory’, family lawyers say
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Cassandra Kalpaxis, who is the director and principal of Kalpaxis Legal, and Courtney Barton, who is the principal of Barton Family Lawyers, spoke recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show about collaborative practice and the benefits for clients and lawyers alike. 

As previously reported by Lawyers Weekly, collaborative practice is being used more and more with the rise of digital communication and online working, with a number of areas of law able to draw value from it. 

Ms Barton first started adopting a collaborative approach when she completed a dispute resolution course – and since then, has found there are many benefits to practicing collaboratively.


“When I started adopting the interest-based bargaining model and stopped looking at my client’s position and how to win, that's really the point where I realised that that's not the way to get my client to a resolution that involves the least emotional cost, as well as the least financial cost,” she said.

I recall I picked up the phone to a practitioner last year where I had a client who had a mental health issue, and certain things that were happening, including direct communication from the other party were exacerbating her mental health issue.

“My ability to pick up the phone and talk to the other practitioner about what those emotional drivers were and to resolve some of the issues in that way without further letters being exchanged led to an agreement being reached a lot more quickly and a lot less emotional cost as well,” Ms Barton added.

Ms Kalpaxis said that, post-pandemic, it was going to be harder than ever to collaborate with other solicitors, particularly after working remotely for so long and the nine-to-five is no longer the norm.

“It's probably going to be more challenging; I have a very optimistic view about collaboration moving forward. And I think it stems from the practices that many of us are putting in place now around being more vocal around what is a better way to practice law when it comes to being collaborative,” she said.

“It's about normalising the practice of picking up a phone and having a discussion at the first instance. And being vocal about that position in the community will ensure that everyone is going to adopt probably a better base model around their practice individually when we get out of this pandemic, instead of continuing on with a more traditional type approach to their individual practices. 

“And we’re seeing that more and more now, which is really, really positive. And the feedback that I'm getting from the community overall around these approaches is very, very, very heart-warming,” Ms Kalpaxis added.

Although she had more “cautious optimism” than Ms Kalpaxis, Ms Barton said there was still a “long way to go” until lawyers would need to undertake mandatory collaborative practice training.

“I think that there is absolutely training that is required for our young lawyers to teach them from the outset what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of the way we conduct ourselves as legal practitioners,” she said.

“Some type of dispute resolution program and training and collaborative law training should be compulsory for our lawyers as they leave law school.”

Ms Barton added that this kind of training would combat the overly competitive attitudes and bad behaviour oftentimes present in the profession.

“It tends to happen more with more senior lawyers who have practices ingrained in terms of how they operate and they’re unlikely to be changed by practices of other lawyers that are more collaborative and cooperative,” she said.

“Having said that, in terms of the younger generation, what I would say is that they are trained by the person that they’re working with.”

It’s more valuable for clients and lawyers if junior solicitors are taught to work with the opposition rather than against them, Ms Kalpaxis added.

“Particularly in the family law context, when we’re talking about collaboration, it is very much about adopting a position about reaching a resolution overall, not just for your client but for the matter overall and being able to work with the person on the other side, not against them. And looking at every single stage as to how we can reduce the conflict and to be able to reach a resolution in a way that is cost-effective and also beneficial for the family as a whole,” she said.

“It very much removes that adversarial mindset that we often have as lawyers where it’s a ‘me and you against each other’ position instead of everyone working together for a greater goal.

“I think it’s probably a minor shift for the people that are practising in those other jurisdictions. To be able to ensure the efficiency of justice is achieved as quickly and efficiently as possible. And to ensure that everyone is doing everything that they can to streamline the process without adding in extra layers of conflict or issue that causes a delay overall,” Ms Kalpaxis added.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Cassandra Kalpaxis and Courtney Barton, click below: 

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