The following piece was written by My Collaborative Team participant, Jeffrey P. Wasserman, Esq.
When I first received my training to become a Collaborative Lawyer, I was told I needed to learn to adopt a paradigm shift from my role as a litigator, which I had practiced for decades.
What is a paradigm shift? Is it a personality change? Is it a role change, becoming a “peacemaker?” Is it treating the parties differently, including your own client? Is it a refocusing on my role in representing a party going through a divorce? It is all of these things, and more, which I am learning with each training and process I go through.
One thing that stands out is that I need to check my ego at the door. This is similar to the gunslingers, who had to check their six shooters at the door of the saloon. Our role is contrary to that of a gunslinger in the Collaborative Process.
So what does this actually mean? In addition to twisting your head around 180 degrees and suddenly becoming a nice person in dealing with every member of the team, you also have to become flexible, listen better, become non-positional, become non-confrontational, and understand that you are only one component, and not necessarily the most important component, of the team.
One of the most meaningful parts of the Process is the initial Pre-brief where all of the professional team members get together, either in person or via phone conference, to discuss the basic terms of the Process. From my experience, I have taken the approach that no professional is more important than any other professional in the Process. Or at least, the parties should not believe that to be the case. We all have a role to play in getting to the successful conclusion of the matter.
One of the very basic issues to be discussed and resolved at this pre-briefing should be where the meetings will take place and the accommodations at the location. Further to this, the seating arrangement should be discussed ahead of the first full team meeting. It does not go over well when there is confusion over the seating arrangement when you enter the conference room with the parties present. And if either of the attorneys are insisting they sit at the head of the table, this can send a message that one attorney is more important than the other attorney, which clearly creates an immediate imbalance in the eyes of the parties.
From my perspective, the neutral facilitator, both being the neutral and the facilitator should be the professional seated at the head of the table. The facilitator, being a neutral, keeps things in balance for the parties. The facilitator can also keep a closer eye on everyone to make sure the body language and spoken language are appropriate and not interfering with a successful conclusion. I have always yielded the head of the table to the facilitator, regardless of meetings taking place in my office conference room.
So, for those lawyers who have not quite made the complete paradigm shift, my suggestion is to check your egos at the door in this Process. We can stroke our egos all we want in a litigation setting, but not in the Collaborative Process.