Saturday, January 9, 2010

Should You Hire a Collaborative Lawyer for a Case in Litigation?

An issue that comes up all the time is whether a Collaborative lawyer can or will handle non-Collaborative cases. For me, the answer is yes. Some people just assume that a Collaborative lawyer will no longer participate in litigation. That is true for some attorneys, but (at this point in time) all Tarrant County divorce lawyers who are trained in Collaborative Law still handle litigation, and that is true of most Collaborative attorneys in Texas. You can just ask an attorney if you wonder about it.

A related issue is whether it is advisable to hire a Collaborative lawyer to handle a litigation divorce. Some people may have a vague fear that a Collaborative lawyer would be unprepared, uncomfortable or unable to function in a litigated case. That is a misplaced fear. Actually, the main difference is that Collaborative attorneys have extra training and experience in negotiating that some litigation attorneys don't have. Which leads to the question: How are the extra training and experience an advantage in litigation?

Let preface my answer by briefly explaining how Tarrant County divorces work, which is essentially how they occur in many of the other counties in Texas. In a litigated divorce, here are the basic steps that are commonly followed:

  • One party files for divorce, gets a restraining order signed by the judge and then gets a temporary hearing scheduled. It is usually set 10-14 days after the filing date so that there is time to get the other party served with papers.
  • The other party receives the papers, usually from a process server. The papers are a petition for divorce, restraining order and notice of the hearing. There will be a citation explaining the need to respond to the petition.
  • If there's enough time, the two sides will sometimes negotiate before going to court to start to work out temporary or interim orders.
  • Both parties appear at court on the appointed date. They, or their attorneys, negotiate. Although the event is called a "Temporary Hearing", there usually isn't a hearing. Cases are usually set at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and often the parties spend all morning at the courthouse negotiating.
  • Negotiations can involve meetings with the judge and occasionally end in a bench conference with the judge, attorneys and parties. Even then, usually, most issues have been resolved before the conference begins and the attorneys usually only submit a few issues. Sometimes, there are negotiations in the judge's office with just the attorneys and judge present.
  • After the judge decides or gives suggestions or an advisory opinion, there's often more negotiations to iron out the inevitable few remaining details.
  • Temporary orders are drawn up and signed.
  • The parties then begin to gather and exchange information, either informally (sometimes) or through the formal "discovery" process. In discovery, written requests for information are sent to the other party that require that other party to produce various and extensive types of information to each other.
  • A trial date is usually set about this time, often many months away. Before the trial date, virtually every court requires mediation in almost every case. Mediation is not attempted only in the most unusual circumstances.
  • Mediation occurs. It's usually either a half- or whole-day marathon in which all remaining issues in dispute in the divorce are to be resolved.
  • Mediation usually works in around 90% or more of the cases. If it doesn't in a particular case, the case eventually goes to trial, although there's always the proverbial "courthouse steps" for final negotiations, and such negotiations are often successful.
You may have noticed that the common denominator in the above summary is the repeated occurrence of negotiations. The bottom line is that whether you end up in litigation (either by choice or otherwise) or Collaboration, you will be participating in negotiations.

Now, back to the question of the day: Should you hire a Collaborative lawyer for a non-Collaborative case? Here are some things to consider:

  • Is there a good chemistry between you and the attorney?
  • Does the attorney listen and communicate well?
  • Can you afford the attorney?
  • Does the attorney have the level of experience you require for your case?
  • Is the attorney a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law?
  • Is the attorney local and familiar with the judges and other attorneys?
  • How would the attorney approach negotiations in your case?

Ultimately, you need to decide if there is good chemistry between you and your lawyer. If you don't feel good about how the attorney communicates or the strategy the attorney proposes, try another attorney. Even excellent attorneys are not always a good match for some people. And don't worry about hiring a Collaborative lawyer in a litigated case -- it may be one of the best decisions you have made.

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