The Evolution of Collaborative Law: Cooperative Law

"Collaborative Law" is an Alternative Dispute Resolution technique. In Collaborative law, each spouse pledges to sit down in the same room to pursue settlement of the case in the most cooperative way possible. They vow to keep talking until they reach settlement, and to stay out of court at all cost.

Over the years, the Collaborative law model has sprouted several variations. One of them is "cooperative law." I used to say I would never do a Cooperative Case. For those who don't recognize the lingo, Cooperative differs from Collaborative in that there is no attorney withdrawal provision. I felt (and still feel) that the attorney withdrawal provision encourages clients to stay the settlement course when the case gets difficult.

I also felt that the opposing counsel who wouldn't do Collaborative Law probably wasn't committed to settlement. This is where I was wrong. I'm just completing my first Cooperative case. I must admit that there were moments when I felt uncomfortable. If this wasn't a pure Collaborative case and it wasn't a pure litigation case, what on earth were my rules? I waited for the opposing counsel to race to the courthouse when we had our first problem. It didn't happen. In fact, we settled the case and it was done with very little acrimony, although it was a case that could have been hotly contested.

What I learned is that what matters most isn't the form of the process you are using. It is the integrity of the attorneys and parties involved. In Collaborative Law, a party can opt out and run to the Courthouse at any time. In either Collaborative or Cooperative Law, if you have two parties and two lawyers who are committed to settling, it will happen – with or without an attorney withdrawal provision.

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