You’re considering a legal separation from your spouse. You want to stay out of court. You would like to use collaborative law proceedings for separating together with attorneys who are expert in collaborative law. How do you choose your attorney?

Here are five questions to ask any attorney you are thinking about hiring.

  1. Where did you get your training in collaborative law proceedings and did it meet the IACP standards?
    • Collaborative law training is like a graduate program. Most law schools do not provide the training as part of the basic three-year curriculum. The International Association of Collaborative Professionals (the “IACP”) provides standards for collaborative law training. Attorneys who wish to focus their practices on collaborative law will have had training that meets IACP standards.
  2. How many hours of training have you had specifically for collaborative law proceedings?
    • The standard for basic collaborative law training is a three-day training (18 hours). In addition, attorneys practicing collaborative law should have at least five days of training in mediation or advanced negotiation (40 hours). Attorneys who focus their practices on collaborative law will also generally have at least one day (8 hours) of advanced collaborative law training. The best collaborative attorneys have substantially more training than these bare minimum requirements. You can see how much training an attorney has had in the collaborative process by looking them up at the IACP website.
  3. How much of your practice is devoted to collaborative law proceedings and how much is devoted to litigation?
    • Collaborative law proceedings require that attorneys sometimes resolve highly charged conflict in ways that are very different than the typical adversarial approach. In many ways it is a paradigm shift for attorneys. It is difficult to switch back and forth between collaborative law proceedings and court proceedings. The best attorneys for collaborative law proceedings focus exclusively on the collaborative process.
  4. How many cases have you successfully completed using collaborative law proceedings?
    • It takes several years and dozens of cases for a successful litigation attorney to really develop the different set of instincts and skills necessary to help you get a good result in collaborative law proceedings without going to court. Ideally attorneys offering collaborative law proceedings will have successfully handled at least twenty-five cases.
  5. Will you work for me and my interests in the collaborative law proceedings without any conflict of interest?
    • Attorneys offering collaborative law proceedings sometimes form groups. These groups become practice groups like firms that create a conflict of interest for the attorneys if you and your spouse hire attorneys that are in the same group. Confirm that the attorney you are considering is independent from any attorney your spouse may consider and that your attorney is not going to be so closely associated with a collaborative practice group or firm that there is a conflict of interest. In the end, you want to be comfortable that your attorney is experienced in family law, and also that he or she is trained and experienced specifically in collaborative law proceedings.