Even If It Is Zoom, It Is Still Collaborative!

Even If It Is Zoom, It Is Still Collaborative!

Last week on an IACP Check-In call Pauline Tesler suggested that we should not call what we are doing on Zoom as Collaborative. Her concern seemed to be over the inability to assess the clients via Zoom. Interestingly she admitted that she had not yet had a Zoom Collaborative case.

Pauline warned us that she was going to say something controversial. 

I now have three matters that have started since we moved to Zoom. I have two matters that are now concluding on Zoom. While it is definitely more difficult to assess and monitor the clients, it works. In one of our cases, the couple sat next to each other sharing the same computer. In another, we had to use the breakout rooms because the parties couldn’t keep under control. While we were able to successfully continue the meeting, I’m not sure we would have been able to continue in person.

We are moving into a new way of life. We must find ways to continue providing our critical services to the public. I would love to hear other’s experiences utilizing Zoom for Collaborative matters.

12 Responses

  1. I have one Collaborative that has progressed smoothly using Zoom. We about finished. Clients felt comfortable with it. When they understand that they can ‘chat’ privately with their attorney, it helps.

  2. We have had amazing success holding collaborative meetings via zoom. We do a bit more prep work, add zoom etiquette to our communications guidelines, ensure we know who is the facilitator (and break out room administrator), who is taking minutes, etc. Currently, I have completed 4 files, and held approximately 15 zoom Collaborative meetings. All with great success. We are fortunate that with the courts closed, collaborative professionals have an unprecedented advantage over our litigation only counsel.

    If you know anyone who wishes Collaborative Training check out http://www.cptrainingbyzoom.com , cost is in Canadian dollars!

  3. I think we need to evaluate things in terms of alternatives. Yes, virtual meetings have their limitations in picking up how parties [and team members] are doing. However, preparation for the meetings and protocols for monitoring and breaks can help deal with that. But given current circumstances, what are the alternatives? I think part of our problem is being dogmatic as to what collaborative is process-wise, rather than what it accomplishes [resolving disputes respectfully out of court]. Indeed, collaborative needs to be seen more as an approach than a process. The results are what counts, not labels, or rigid means of practice. Additionally, what are the means to assess parties in court, or even with a collaborative in-person meeting? With all wearing masks, a lot of our cues will be missing. We should not focus on what a Zoom collaborative is not, but rather focus on what it is, and what it accomplishes.

  4. During this time of COVID, I have been part of cases, start to finish, via Zoom (and phone) with a team in the Zoom meetings. I am an MHP and depend on watching all kinds of cues in these meetings, such as fatigue level, facial expressions, emotional hijack with client(s). Yes, that is easier to more clearly assess with in-person meetings.

    Surprisingly, though, the meetings have worked well. I felt I was able to see things with my clients that I would not necessarily have seen in an in-person meeting: A hyper-activity/ distraction-sensitive moving (on and off screen) on the part of a client, in a joint Zoom meeting, yesterday; the way a mother comforted an interrupting young child.

    The opposite is also true: I was unable to take note of the wearing of wedding rings on the Zoom call with a couple, wherein one person of the couple wears their wedding ring and the other does not. I’ve been curious to see when the ring will not show up, one day.

    There are different sorts of interruptions (letting the dog out, attending to the needs of a child in the background, and the like). We have discussed setting up some Zoom guidelines along the lines of the “Expectations of Conduct” or “Guidelines for Communication” that we use in joint meetings.

    I am interested in hearing of other’s experiences.


  5. I have had two collaborative files on the go during Covid with multiple Zoom meetings on each. The files are both progressing very well (MUCH better than my other family law files where clients did not choose the Collaborative process). I am definitely able to assess the clients and the general atmosphere in the “room”. At one of our last meetings, I addressed verbally during the meeting my client’s shrug which I had seen on video and which I felt seemed to suggest he was not happy. I was right and we were able to address it. In the same meeting, I jokingly noted at the end, as we were setting our next meeting date, that I noticed my client shrug again but that this shrug was an “I am ok with anything” shrug as opposed to “I am giving up” shrug. He laughed and I knew I had been able to assess him properly even though it was video.

  6. I agree we are moving into a new way of handling collaborative matters. I recently started and finished a case using Zoom in four meetings all during the lock down. It worked very well for that couple. I understand the concerns moving to collaboration online and I would prefer in person meetings in most cases. However, if clients are on a tight budget, the efficiency of collaborating online, and resulting savings in professional fees, may be a positive benefit that encourages more people to use the process. I also found it easy to schedule meetings because everyone only had to account for two hours out of their day and not the usual three to four hours for travel and time to find a parking spot. I also believe that the millenial generation may be much more comfortable with, and may well prefer, collaborating online.
    David A. Miller
    Pittsburgh PA

  7. I have been doing collaborative cases on zoom, as well as private mediation for child custody. I find the platform to be useful, successful, and sometimes challenging. In one mediation which was less contentious, the clients were together and shared the computer. Other cases they did not.

    My challenge has been to convey a sensitivity to their frustration or pain, which seems to come across more empathically in person.
    It’s also more difficult to stop them from emotionally reacting to the other, as when one person is speaking, they may not hear the mediator trying to interrupt. Then it’s off to the races; unnecessarily rewounding each other.

    On one occasion I was concern about an imbalance of power that potentially sounded threatening. I think we need to spend more time discussing how we will use Zoom, the limitations, assess for issues related to safety—do they have guns? Has their been issues of DV? Medications? Concurrent mental health issues? And develop a safety plan Incase things don’t go well, such as contacting law enforcement to make a welfare check of either party. If we put this in our contract and treat it similarly to Tarasoff issue they will be informed before starting and we will have a policy in place, that violates confidentiality, but provides safety.

    I’m interested in feedback, as these are preliminary ideas and I have not implemented them yet.
    Linda Tell, RN, MFT

  8. I am a collaborative family lawyer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I too have started one file and am concluding two others via zoom. In some ways zoom has been less stressful for clients – they are in their own surroundings and are not “triggered” by the physical presence of the other party. I think virtual meetings are the way of the future, frankly.

    Pat Gay

  9. I am a collaborative divorce attorney in Campbell, California. I have had multiple collaborative full team meetings; joint client, coach, and lawyer meetings; and even initial consultations all on video conference. Twice, I’ve taught Divorce Options, the California-based, consumer-focused webinar regarding divorce process choices via video conference to great approval and appreciation.

    Every collaborative case we have is different. Collaborative professionals empower and assist families in navigating and designing their desired outcome through the myriad of circumstances in which our clients find themselves. Our ability to do that in the midst of challenging dynamics is what sets us apart.

    My collaborative colleagues have amazing capacity for adaptability and dexterity. That strength is showing up in these video conferences. Families forced to shelter together in unhappy relationships need that dexterity and adaptability. Our creativity is a lifeline for many: from Zoom calls with clients in their cars or closets to moving into break-out rooms in an instant, midst full-team meeting. While introverts have been training for sheltering in place their whole lives — collaborative professionals have been training for this our whole professional lives. We just didn’t know it.

  10. Like any communication tool, it has strengths and weaknesses. But the work we are accomplishing on Zoom is absolutely still Collaborative — and I’ll proudly call it that! I have three matters happening via Zoom right now, and the families are being well-served in an effective Collaborative container.

    I tend to agree with Pat Gay — this will become increasingly prevalent as we move forward. And I welcome it, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s helpful and serves families.

    Kenneth Klabunde
    Financial Specialist for Physician Families
    Practicing Nationally, based in Cincinnati and Indianapolis

  11. I agree with others that Collaborative and mediation meetings have been going quite well on Zoom. I am currently working on several cases (I am a mental health professional) in each modality and we are all getting better at using break out rooms, and setting up respectful chat rules: no secret strategizing between attorney and client — keep things transparent as they would be in real life. If a client or a professional wish to speak privately with one another, they ask for a break and a break out room. Works well.

    One thing that has been an interesting bonus of Zoom sessions and meetings is that I have had two clients, wives in separate Collaborative cases, become quite emotional during a meeting, and after prior discussion about zoom guidance and good zoom behavior, they turned off their videos for a few minutes. They each felt exposed crying on screen, so they took a little video break and disappeared, but continued to listen to the discussion. It was quite helpful! They returned visually after they took some breaths and got some supportive private chats (“Take your time;” Would you like more of a break?” ) and later said it was a useful strategy to manage their emotions and vulnerability.

    I thought that meeting clients for the first time on zoom would make it tough to develop a trusting relationship, but with extra individual sessions, it has gone well.

    The worst thing about long Collaborative zoom meetings is back pain. I have been sitting with a heating pad!

  12. Did Pauline really say that? I’d like to read the full comment so I can be sure I’m understanding the context. Anything Pauline says I really want to consider because she’s so smart and wise. But, like all of us, she’s human so I reserve the right to disagree.

    My experience with Zoom in collaborative cases has been very positive. As others have said, in a perfect world we’d always meet in person. At first I was concerned. Then I found that I can see both parties and track the emotions moving through the meeting pretty much just as well in Zoom as I can in person. I have to focus more so it requires a bit more energy. But I don’t find it at all exhausting if we keep the client portion of the meetings to two hours, with a half hour before and a half hour after for the professional team, which is the protocol in my community.

    I’ll even go so far as to say I experience advantages with Zoom. Because of the additional focus required, I probably notice the emotions moving more acutely in Zoom than I do in real life. I also find it oddly grounding to see myself on the screen. No doubt because of early childhood trauma, I carry insecurity and can unconsciously feel ungrounded at times. But when I see myself looking so much like a middle aged attorney, it becomes impossible to fall into subconscious traps where I might feel here or there (without even realizing it) like I’m 7 or 12 — which can obviously impact one’s ability to be fully present in the moment. With Zoom, it just doesn’t happen. I can’t avoid the fact that I’m 57 and have grey hair. Perhaps I’m unique in this but my guess is I’m not the only one. Most all of us carry a share of childhood trauma, one of the costs of living in an imperfect world.

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