January 2020

Viewing posts from January , 2020

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.

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