By Marty Klein
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “collaborative” as “involving two or more people working together for a special purpose.”
When I first discovered the collaborative process, I was quite intrigued – in fact, inspired about the possibility of two people sitting down with trained professionals for the “special purpose” of bringing a peaceful resolution to very difficult life situations. So I decided to undertake the two levels of collaborative training; aspiring to be that “peacemaker” often referred to by collaborative professionals.
Here I am, twelve years into the collaborative practice… somewhat discouraged and a tad forlorn. Let me share my woes with you…
Two years ago, I chose to make the move out of litigation, into the world of “family dispute resolution.” Emotionally, I must confess, it was somewhat of a paradigm shift for me. Perhaps it was giving up the “death rush” I experienced when going to court. Maybe it was the lost opportunity of releasing my aggression each time I battled it out at court!
I distinctly recall sitting in an interview room in the courthouse with another lawyer and after twenty minutes or so, I realized what was happening to me in the process. Truth is, I was acting somewhat like an emotional firecracker; so incredibly caught up in the moment; desperately wanting to win – to get my client’s “position” to the forefront. I suddenly looked over to opposing counsel and somewhat shamefully exclaimed: “Look at me. I’m turning into a raving maniac!” I realized how overcome and positional I had become and immediately did a double-take.
There is no question that moving away from litigation was at first, somewhat of a blow to my billings. Nonetheless, I knew that it was I who chose the world of family dispute resolution, after coming through years of seeing and experiencing the brokenness that can be caused by litigation. I often say that there are no winners in litigation; other than the lawyers. Yet… even the lawyers don’t really win, for ultimately they too pay a price in being emotionally caught up in the system. Fact is… few areas of the law do not have emotional consequences on everyone immersed in the “system.” I appreciate what Justice Billings Learned Hand, one of the United States’ most significant judicial philosophers, once observed bout litigation, ”As a litigant, I should dread a lawsuit beyond almost anything short of sickness and death!”
I am convinced that part of the struggles we encounter in life as service providers, are a result of our “compartmentalization,” in trying to prioritize what we perceive or classify to be the important things. Instead of looking at life as a “circle” we look at it in a “hierarchical” scheme. We categorize the tasks and responsibilities in our lives and then slot them into levels of significance. What we consider to be the highest of priorities, we place at the top. However, if we place all of these within the circle, fitting them together as part of the whole, we will discover that one aspect “in the circle of life” does not take “precedence” over another.
You see… our lives are laid out like a circle. The circle is divided up into slices, if you like. Each slice represents an aspect or responsibility in our life. For example, the circle can be divided up into different slices such as: “spouses, children, family, work, religion, health, hobbies, recreation, friends, etc.”
Although the slices are independent, they are very much interdependent; all of the parts making up the whole. Our struggle/challenge – until we die – will be in juggling and prioritizing those slices. If one piece of the circle is out of balance, all the other pieces will be adversely affected.
We are all aware that life is so incredibly fragile; fraught with uncertainties. Try as we may, we just cannot control every aspect, and most times are left to find ways to recover and bring ourselves back into balance. Life doesn’t suddenly become easy because you set certain priorities. It’s our ability to adapt to change (step-by-step) that will improve our lives, even when all odds are against us.
Try this simple exercise. Sit down with a piece of paper and draw out a circle. Next, think of all the slices you have in your life and assign a slice equivalent to the percentage of time you spend in each area. For example, if you devote 50% of your time to work, label that “work,” which would take up half of your circle. (Ouch!)
So what do we seek in life? What is your goal? What is really important in your life?
I think that balance and equilibrium are both critical to achieve a healthy, happy and fulfilled life. Seeing your life as parts of the whole can help guide you. It can give you a reality check and may motivate us to look more carefully at our true priorities. Perhaps, some pieces are too large, while others are too small.
So what does all this have to do with the collaborative process and why is it being published in a collaborative blog? Well, it’s my backdoor way of trying to find resolve, in my own life, in curbing the frustration I have with those who have chosen to compartmentalize – by “doing” the collaborative process, yet somehow failing to “die to their old ways of doing business” – the “law model.” The law model is not just based on “win-lose.” It has much to do with “control,” and as many of us are aware, we are in a constant battle within, to rid of the law model, in order to enter into the realm of being a “peacemaker.”
So here’s my real rant… I am so very tired and quite frankly fed up with lawyers who hold themselves out to be “Collaborative Lawyers,” as another way to “service” clients and then try to justify their litigious behaviour by stating that: “When I practice the collaborative process, I’m 100% collaborative. However, when I litigate, I will be a great litigator and fight for the best results.” Herein lays a perfect example of compartmentalization – perhaps schizophrenia! And the reality is – it is those Collaborative Lawyers who take on collaborative cases, who then deal with them in a litigious-like manner, for they have not come to terms with the old law model. Having become so enmeshed in it, it nearly always rears its ugly head in a 4-way meeting.
Choosing the collaborative process is not just “another way” or “another means” of resolving disputes. It starts with a paradigm shift in our lives, arising out of a committed desire to bring resolve at all costs. It is in fact “a way of life” – a “world and life view.” One consciously chooses to be a peacemaker, not because it’s a money- maker, but because it’s the right thing to do; bringing wholeness to broken families, in a faltering world.
Robert Benham, a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, commented that the first professions in society were:
a. the clergy, who healed the spirit;
b. the doctor, who healed the body; and
c. (yes!) the lawyer, who healed the community.
Mahatma Gandhi (actually a lawyer!), said this about the practice of law: “I understood that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties – driven asunder.”
As lawyers we are all too quick to “point out and segregate the issues,” but fall drastically short in bringing forth solutions/resolutions. We have the opportunity to provide comfort and guidance to those in need. We can generate solutions to manoeuvre our client’s through conflict. And we can educate them, in order to protect them from future pain.
Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of Supreme Court of the United States, and in fact, the longest sitting Justice (1969 to 1986), once said:
“The healing function ought to be the primary role of the lawyer in the highest conception of our profession. The entire legal profession – lawyers, judges and law teachers, has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers – healers of conflicts. Doctors, in spite of astronomical medical costs, still retain a high degree of public confidence because they are perceived as healers. Should lawyers not be healers? Healers, not warriors? Healers, not procurers? Healers, not hired guns?”
And now… what about YOU?
Do you need a paradigm shift in your life?
Do you want to make a difference?
Do you want to be the difference?
Get out that paper and pen and draw out your circle of life.
You may be surprised by the results.
Finally… As you walk away from this blog, if you take just one thought with you… it is this:
It only takes one person to change your life for the better… and that is YOU.
Klein Law is a family law boutique that has been offering clients in the Greater Toronto Area, effective, innovative and alternate approaches for their family law needs since 1984.
4632 Dunedin Crescent
Mississauga, Ontario L5R 1M2