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Collaborative Law: High Energy, Out of the Box Legal Creativity

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

The largest annual gathering of Collaborative lawyers and professionals just took place in San Francisco from October 27-30, as the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) held its 12th annual Forum. As always, this Forum was an amazing event, four days of insightful, profound and transformative thought in the legal profession. The IACP‘s mission is “to transform the way conflict is resolved worldwide”. When 630 of its 4,500 members gathered at this year’s Forum, it was clear that this community walks the walk of transformative dispute resolution work.

I’ve practiced law for over 20 years and can say that by and large, lawyers are a fairly conservative, tradition-based group, steeped in and guided by precedent and procedure. What is inspiring and attractive about the Collaborative Law (CL) community – particularly those who attend an IACP Forum – is its clear exception to that general norm. CL attracts some of the most creative, progressive and out of the box thinkers from around the world. They are fully engaged in this mission of transforming not only the way we resolve disputes, but more importantly the way we think about and approach them.

The IACP’s Forum is far and away the most energized, enthusiastic and refreshing gathering of lawyers you will ever experience. This year was no exception, especially when hosted in one of the most creative, out of the box, eclectic and high energy cities in the world. It’s hard to overstate what a beautiful and incredibly interesting setting the “City by the Bay” is, especially on Halloween weekend. From its two keynote presentations by best-selling author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely of Duke University and Research Professor Brene Brown of the University of Houston, through dozens of informative workshops and eight full day hands-on training Institutes, to its popular “No tech chat room” brainstorming sessions, the Forum is truly off the hook.

The facts attest to the growth of the IACP and the use of CL worldwide. There are now 4,500 members of IACP, CL is practiced and IACP members hail from 24 countries around the world. There are 320 practice groups. A practice group is an organized group of CL lawyers and professionals in a regional area. By example, the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council (MCLC) is a practice group, now in its 11th year, a statewide non-profit organization that has trained hundreds of lawyers, financial advisors, mental health professionals, coaches and consultants in CL. From the MCLC’s ranks have come two international IACP Presidents, Rita Pollak, a CL lawyer formerly of Brookline now living in Tucson, AR, and the IACP’s new President, Lynda Robbins, a CL lawyer and mediator from Reading, MA.

CL began its journey in 1990 introduced by one lawyer, a divorce attorney named Stu Webb practicing in Minnesota. His idea was that lawyers and clients made a commitment, in writing, not to litigate and not to go to court, but to work from the outset to resolve the dispute through a series of collaborative sessions in which lawyers and parties negotiate and work together at one table to solve the legal problem. Today, just over 20 years later, the CL approach has come of age and continues to grow at an amazing pace. Presently, CL is being utilized to resolve disputes of many kinds besides divorces, including the practice areas of business, employment, probate, medical error, business succession and elder law. Because CL is an efficient alternative to divisive and expensive litigation, overburdened and understaffed courts and cumbersome civil procedure, CL is the face of the future in dispute resolution and steadily becoming the way of the present. It reflects the “third way” recently written about by Steven Covey in his new book, The 3rd Alternative. I just finished reading the chapter in his book about using the 3rd alternative in legal disputes and came away with the thought that Covey just described the essence of CL.

So, if you’re the kind of person that is attracted to creative thinking, efficiency, inspiring, out of the box ideas and environments, I recommend three things to you: Think about using CL the next time you find yourself in a dispute, read The 3rd Alternative and spend some time in San Francisco. All three will transform your thinking.


Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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