There once was a time when it was considered an honor to be a lawyer. Those times used to seem long gone to me– until I was introduced to the Collaborative approach five years ago.
At a recent lecture, Ralph Nader posed the question whether the practice of law has become less of a profession and more of a trade? Indeed, I have heard numerous great thinkers in the legal field lament over the demise of our once noble profession. The problem, as I see it is that somehow in the last 50 years, we have allowed people to use the law as a weapon. Maybe people need to remember the original intent of the law?
Prof. David Hall wrote a thoughtful essay about how the law was created as a safety net for society when all other social norms failed– it was meant to protect against gross injustice. Obviously, we can always aspire that our clients do more than the bare minimum, but that requires the attorney to embrace the role of a counselor, not just an advocate. Unfortunately, the latter skill has been emphasized in recent years, during which time many have misused the judicial system to gain incredibly unfair advantages by playing games of strategy without care or concern as to the greater social impact. These actions have now tarnished the reputation of so many in my field.
When I was beginning to lose hope, the Collaborative model was introduced to DC. In this practice area, professionals sign an agreement to work together on cases and not play games. We make a pledge to help families preserve their resources as much as possible, and we disqualify ourselves from taking a Collaborative case to court. We essentially take an oath to do no harm– a revoluntionary way of thinking for some so accustomed to the gladiator model we use in courts.
The results in the Collaborative cases I have seen are not widely different from the settlements reached in a litigation model, it is simply the way the parties got there that is so vastly different. In a few civilized meetings, we work through the same issues that need to be addressed in court, without the posturing, the nasty grams, and threats. It is such a humane way to resolve disputes, and as this model has continued to gain popularity, it has restored my faith not just in the legal profession, but humanity as a whole.