Blog

Collaborative Law Is Open For Business

Author: John Sarratt

It’s hard to believe that our lives have been altered so dramatically and so quickly. On New Year’s Day this year, who had even heard of the coronavirus or COVID-19? In less than three months it seems as though everything has changed. Schools and businesses are closed. Stay at Home Proclamations have been issued. Most in-person court proceedings, as well as discovery proceedings and mediations, have been postponed. The end of the crisis is difficult to predict; and even when that end comes, there will be much catching up to do.

While much of the suffering and dislocation that is occurring and will continue to occur will be difficult to avoid or to recover from, in some areas of our lives steps can be taken to address today’s problems today. One such area is in dispute resolution where the parties and their counsel choose to resolve disputes using the Collaborative process.

The Collaborative process occurs entirely outside the court system. There is no reliance on courthouses, judges, juries, or public filing of documents. There is no need for depositions, mediations, or other in-person proceedings. Instead, the parties and their counsel agree to the exchange of needed information and meet informally to discuss their real needs and interests and to brainstorm over ways to resolve their dispute. The end result is a settlement agreement that is truly “owned” by all parties because they have been instrumental in reaching that agreement. Typically, the entire process takes a mere fraction of the time or expense of a court proceeding.

Ordinarily, these meetings take place in person. However, during the current crisis, there is no reason they cannot occur online. Using Zoom or similar online meeting platforms, each party and each attorney can be in a separate space, maintaining appropriate “social distance” while still being together to resolve their dispute. The health benefit of staying in place to stop or slow the spread of a global pandemic does not have to mean that we stop or slow the pace of resolving disputes.

Even when the crisis passes and in-person meetings become more frequent, using the Collaborative process would avoid any of the delays that seem inevitable once the courts are fully open for business. Collaborative would also allow all parties greater flexibility to manage their schedules and meet online to continue moving towards a resolution whatever the “new normal” turns out to be.

So, whether in the midst of COVID-19 or on the other side of “flattening the curve,” the Collaborative approach to dispute resolution could literally proceed as though the crisis had never occurred.

To learn more—and to find a list of Collaborative attorneys—please visit the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association website.

Bartina Edwards: The Collaborator

For more than thirty years, Bartina Edwards has been an entrepreneur, a small business owner, and an advocate for employers and employees, alike. Bartina’s perspective is shaped by her unique background, which includes: ten years of experience in the banking industry; experience owning and managing a staffing and consulting agency; and experience practicing law with North Carolina’s most renowned civil rights advocates. All those experiences led her to becoming an integral member of the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association. Bartina shares her personal and professional story as it relates to a journey that led her to envision a different way of resolving civil disputes. Here is Bartina’s story, in her words:

What do you like most about practicing law?

Empowering people with solutions that can change their lives; and experiencing the realization that these changes often have lasting influence and impact beyond the individual client.

Tell us a little about how you got to where you are today.

I’m not sure how I got to where I am today, but it has been a journey. I don’t recall ever sitting down plotting it all out from my past to present, although I always feel like I have some form of plan A, plan B, and plan C. Ultimately, I would describe it as a guiding light. Simply put, I got here with a lot of passion, drive, ambition and tenacity, coupled with lots of learning experiences, strong family support, prayer, and good folks who went before me.

Why are you passionate about civil collaborative law?

Collaborative law supports my ongoing personal journey that started over 12 years ago to become more mindful in how I live, and it supports a lifestyle of my definition of balance. Because collaborative law is still in its infancy, I am learning and developing a method to fully embrace it as a way of practicing law. While it supports my vision of conciliatory dispute resolution among lawyers, I see it as a bigger opportunity for those who currently do not have access to justice. For those underserved by the current legal system, collaborative law offers a cost-effective opportunity for more clients to access a dispute resolution option without having to shoulder the burden of filing a lawsuit. It is innovative, forward-thinking, and next generational.

What is your favorite book and why?

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. The title is self-explanatory!  It is a great book that encompasses the academic, the science, the medical, the biblical, and the mystical all in one. It explains our human behavior in a way that aligns with many theories, ultimately leading to a discussion about meditation. I found it an interesting read, and I have recommended it to many, who have said it has been life-changing for them.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time to me is having the freedom to do what I want when I want. It’s on ongoing goal I strive toward. In terms of hobbies, I like snow skiing; reading for pleasure; and attending social, cultural and entertaining events.

Be sure to connect with Bartina or any other specially-trained collaborative law attorney if you would like to learn more about an emerging, efficient method specifically-tailored to help clients resolve civil disputes more efficiently.

Bill Blancato: The Collaborator

An environmental thought-leader (read: here or here), an advocate for children’s rights (read: here), and a compassionate advocate for preserving North Carolina’s history thoughtfully and empathetically (read: here), that’s Bill Blancato. But, he’s also someone he believes strongly in the value and efficacy of resolving civil disputes collaboratively. So much so that he was a founding member of the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association. We asked Bill some questions to better understand his private practice journey that led him to support collaborative law. Here are his answers, in his words:

What do you like most about practicing law?

I love the challenge of helping people solve a problem they haven’t been able to solve themselves; and doing so in a prompt and cost-effective way.

Tell us a little about how you got to where you are today.

I had built an interesting litigation practice when, in 2006, a client, a large regional general contractor, asked if I would be interested in becoming its general counsel.  No more time sheets!  I jumped on that ship, but the 2008 recession sank the ship (my own professional Titanic story).  In early 2013, I found myself back in private practice with no clients.  At this stage of my career, I would rather focus on helping people solve problems than fighting in court.

Why are you passionate about civil collaborative law?

I took superior court mediation training in 1992, when I had been practicing less than 10 years.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that litigation is almost always a very time consuming and expensive way to resolve disputes.  I knew there had to be a better way.  Mediation is one of those better ways.  Collaborative improves on mediation because it puts more control in the clients’ hands.

What is your favorite book and why?

In 2019, I read Ball Four by Jim Bouton, which I had never read before.  I’m a big baseball fan and thought it was hilarious.  But my all-time favorite is: “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America” by John Barry.  This is a fascinating story about the hydrology and geology of the Mississippi River; the engineers who built bridges across it and opened the channel to shipping; the huge flood of 1927; the economies; especially New Orleans, that depend on the river; and Herbert Hoover’s rise to prominence as he managed the aftermath of the flood.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Cycling, hiking, tennis, bowling, cooking, gardening (but the deer are making this very difficult), winning money from my friends at our monthly poker game, spending time with my wife and daughters, and volunteering as a Regional Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby which is working to build the will in Congress to address climate change.

Do you want to know more about the civil collaborative law process? Connect with a civil collaborative lawyer here.

Jeffrey Batts: The Collaborator

A Relational Case for Collaborative Law

How do you build a successful law practice in a community where everyone may know everyone’s name? In a place where six degrees of separation never exist (because everyone likely is more closely connected)? Answer: relationships. What happens when you realize the traditional method for resolving civil litigation disputes results in (even if unintended) destroying what had otherwise been a strong, tenured relationship? Is there another way for resolving disputes consistent with the relational focus that historically helps one build a law practice in a relational community. Jeffrey Batts is one of the attorneys who founded another way of civil dispute resolution. It’s called collaborative law. And he’s here to share his story as it relates to his law practice and his ever-shifting focus on developing a collaborative law practice for himself and for other attorneys around North Carolina. Here’s Jeffrey’s story in his words:

I have litigated cases for more than thirty years, and for the most part, have focused on disputes involving estates and closely-held businesses (i.e., family businesses). A few years ago, I stumbled upon an item in a Bar Association email about the development of civil collaborative law practice.  I noticed the point person was John Sarratt, a mentor to me early in my legal career when we both practiced in Greensboro. John now lives and practices law in the Raleigh area.

I called John to learn about collaborative law.  Attorneys engaged in small business or estate disputes frequently see disagreements between close friends or family members. Historically, the closeness of these relationships makes the disputes particularly difficult to resolve.  The legal dispute often masks other underlying issues such as hurt feelings and distrust.  As a general rule, the legal system is not designed to adjudicate “hurt feelings or distrust” unless there is some nuanced actionable wrong. While a breach of trust may offend the conscience, that does not always means it offends the law or that there is an efficient remedy to right that wrong through the legal system.

Nevertheless, it is within this context that communication ceases or becomes counterproductive between the parties.  At the end of the day, when litigation has run its course, the business or family is damaged, and tenured relationships are broken.  Mediation can be an effective means of alternative dispute resolution designed to reduce expense and resolve pending litigation efficiently and economically. However, most attorneys would agree that somewhere along the way, mediation as a stand-alone alternative dispute resolution process promoting efficiency got off its metaphorical tracks. Today, many attorneys would argue mediation doesn’t deal with underlying issues, so the “collateral damage” remains.  During the mediation process, attorneys perform as they are trained to do, but the panoply of client outcomes (both legal and non-legal) is not wholly-addressed through a traditional mediation process.

My call to John has led to engagement with dozens of attorneys throughout the state who share a passion for dispute resolution focused on producing better solutions for our clients.  The collaborative process is client-centered, emphasizing the underlying needs and interests of the parties, and utilizing face-to-face meetings between the parties and their trained collaborative counsel.  In a series of one or two hour sessions over a few months, the participants (read: “clients”) talk through their issues and explore solutions, often creative solutions, historically unavailable via the judicial process.  The collaborative process is private, faster, and less expensive for clients. Typically, the collaborative process differs from traditional methods of dispute resolution because it offers the parties opportunities to resolve underlying core issues and preserve relationships. Working through my first collaborative case, the process has proven its value, which I will share in greater detail when the matter concludes.  I can tell you at this point that I find joy in working with colleagues and friends of a common mindset, and that working together to help our clients’ understanding of issues and brainstorming solutions is an enriching experience, for attorneys and parties.  For a relational person in a highly-relational market (Rocky Mount, NC), I believe collaborative law offers hope as a way to resolve disputes without destroying relationships. Please contact me (or any of the attorneys listed on this site) if you would like to know more about the process.

#collaborativelaw #coLAWborate #collaborativeattorney