I just attended an intimate gathering in Las Vegas of attorneys from all around the world. We were all there for some advanced training in the civil side of collaborative practice. (No pun intended.) As with so many collaborative trainings, at the GCLC annual conference, it was inspiring to learn so much and to connect with so many others who have opted, like me, to guide their clients down a more peaceful path than traditional litigation. I returned from Vegas with a renewed enthusiasm for why I practice law collaboratively and why I work so hard to market the process to other professionals, as well as to the public.

There were so many valuable takeaways from Vegas! I am certain that my revelations were different from those, say, of Sherrie Abney, or of Stu Webb (both of our revered progenitors attended); they’ve both been at this for a lot longer than I have. But I will share mine here and, perhaps, challenge them to share theirs, as well.

Although collaborative practice is typically considered a process applicable to divorce work, it is now gaining traction in general civil and commercial disputes. Many now understand that it is not only families who can benefit from this holistic form of dispute resolution. After all, most disputes, regardless of the subject matter, involve three components: legal, emotional, and financial. And the collaborative practice method addresses each of these important parts as the attorneys guide their clients through the legalities, the facilitator assists with the emotions, and the financial professional helps make sense of the numbers involved. As Melanie Atha remarked in Las Vegas, it is only the collaborative approach to dispute resolution that affords our clients emotional due process.

I presented last, after three full days of training, in a venue loaded with both novices and old hands. As a result, during the conference, I found myself working, listening to each presentation, as well as to the comments and questions from the room, and refocusing my own remarks on marketing this unique approach to dispute resolution to fit my audience. My most important takeaway from this conference was therefore from my own presentation.

In the application of collaborative practice to family law disputes, there was no defined group of clients interested in hearing about it. Thus, each of us had to offer it to each individual divorce consult. However, in civil practice, we have defined groups to whom we can reach out to explain the collaborative process and its potential application to their operations. We can present the advantages and address the concerns about collaborative dispute resolution to groups of CEOs, of in-house risk managers, of in-house council, of HR department heads, etc., beginning in the areas where civil collaborative practice is currently active. These groups meet regularly for annual conferences. We can propose presentations about collaborative practice, but tailored to their specific interests and operations.

Further, we should suggest that all businesses have trained collaborative civil practitioners in-house or on referral.
We should all seek out opportunities to present at national and statewide conferences, whether family law-focused or not. For civil conferences, I tailor my collaborative presentations for those civil practitioners in attendance, whether human relations folks, insurance defense lawyers, personal injury lawyers, corporate counsel, insurance adjustors, or others. I have found that the audiences seem genuinely interested in the prospect of applying the collaborative approach to their business disputes.

When this kind of motion forward results in businesses demanding that their disputes be addressed collaboratively, we will also attract other civil and commercial practitioners to become trained in utilizing the collaborative approach to dispute resolution. And this is how we will change the way that conflict in the business world is viewed and resolved, and how we will embed collaborative practice into the culture of business in America today.

The time has come to market collaborative practice to our commercial clients in a methodical and comprehensive way. After all, our audiences already know that litigation is too much of a risky gamble.

More takeaways from Vegas to come!

Joryn Jenkins, Open Palm Law