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.