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What Is A Collaborative Lawyer And Why Do I Need One?

One type of law practice that bucks all trends and stereotypes is collaborative law.

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What comes to mind when you hear the word “lawyer?” Many people immediately think of the lawyers on their favorite legal tv shows, constantly arguing with one another and then immediately waltzing into court to have their “you can’t handle the truth” moment. (Very unrealistic, by the way.) Yes, many attorneys try cases or argue appeals in court, but there are innumerable other kinds of law and ways to practice law that don’t involve presenting a case in court and giving either a judge (or judges) or a jury the power to determine the outcome of the case.

Collaboration occurs when two or more people or entities work together to achieve a common goal. Collaboration goes beyond simple compromise, which sees the domain of solutions as pie, a finite thing to split up. Compromise is a binary approach to a problem, in which one person has to give up something so another person can get something else. Instead, collaboration envisions a multidimensional domain of creative solutions. It delves past the surface of me versus you and us versus them and asks what interests are at play that drive our various needs and wants. Where do these underlying interests overlap in ways that we can find workable and sustainable win-win solutions?

The collaborative law practice, as defined by the International Academy of Collaborative Professions, “is a voluntary dispute resolution process in which the parties settle without resorting to litigation.” As part of the process, the parties and their attorneys agree to the following

  • Full transparency through voluntary disclosure of all relevant and material information;
  • A commitment to use good faith efforts in negotiations to reach a mutually acceptable settlement;
  • An agreement that if settlement is not possible and either party moves forward with any contested court proceedings, their respective collaborative attorneys must cease working with them.

The collaborative process typically also includes engaging a neutral coach who facilitates the process. The parties may also engage other neutral experts, such as mental health, financial, or real estate experts, whose engagement also terminates if either party initiates a contested court proceeding.

The coach facilitates the process and keeps everyone on task. The Collaborative lawyers provide legal guidance and advice to their clients while also helping their clients take a deeper look at the interests involved. Collaboratively trained lawyers, like mediators, use active listening, reframing, reflecting, and other conflict resolution and management skills to help the participants move through impasse and shift to thinking of all participants as part of a team that will solve the problem together. This, in turn, encourages the participants to begin to explore a more expansive array of solutions.

Without a doubt, conflict is so hard. When humans feel attacked we dig further into our positions. It’s our brain’s way of trying to protect us. Unfortunately, it can and often does impede the possibility of resolution. By engaging in an intentionally collaborative process, people do not avoid their disagreements. Rather, they face them head-on, but they do so within a supportive framework. As a result, they are more likely to have all the information they need to make well-informed decisions and more likely to remain focused on the issue and not the people. As a result, the chance of feeling attacked decreases, and the space for exploring options with curiosity and trust increases. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For more information regarding collaborative law, see the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council website,, or the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals website,

To learn more about interest-based negotiation, see Getting to Yes: Negotiated Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher & William Ury (Penguin 1991).

To learn more about the high conflict cycle, see High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How To Get Out, by Amanda Ripley (Simon & Schuster, 2021).