"Collaborative law" seems to be the buzzphrase of the moment in family law circles (certainly collaborative lawyers are always eager to sing its praises), but just how important is collaborative law, and what role is it likely to play in the future? Is it the "new big thing", or just the latest fad?
An article in Crain's Chicago Business, linked to by Florida Divorce, gives a progress report on collaborative law, and I think that its findings can best be summarised as 'mixed'. The article does give examples of collaborative law successes, but I do find it hard to disagree with lawyer David Novoselsky, whose client is suing his former collaborative lawyer: "If you have two reasonable people and two decent lawyers who are interested in helping clients, you don't need to go through this formal process that's been named 'collaborative law.'"
Novoselsky says that collaborative law is a 'boondoggle' (a wonderful American word meaning 'a project that wastes time and money'), and indeed as the article states, many couples attempt collaboration only to find that it breaks down and they then have to go the conventional litigation route, having wasted considerable time and money (one man mentioned spent $35,000 on a collaborative divorce before having to quit). The fact that the parties must instruct new lawyers if the collaborative process breaks down only adds to the expense.
The lawyer who took on the case of the man who wasted $35,000 suggests, perhaps somewhat unfairly, that collaborative law has created a cottage industry for lawyers who can't stomach the stress and aggravation of trying a case and "does nothing to serve the client at all." I can't see that being the case over here, at least not yet, as I don't think there is the volume of collaborative work available for a lawyer to specialise in it and nothing else.
Is collaborative law just the "trend of the week", as Novoselsky also described it? Well, it's certainly not a panacea, as I'm sure any collaborative lawyer will agree, but it does seem to be here to stay. Perhaps the best way to view it is as another tool, along with mediation, available to couples who want to resolve their differences between themselves, without asking the court to do it for them, and just as with mediation those couples must be prepared for the possibility that the tool will not be up to the job.