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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