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Collaborative Practice is Like Sourdough!

Ok, full disclosure – I have been one of those annoying people who used lockdown to master the art of making sourdough bread. I have become an obsessed, bread making monster – a variety of sourdoughs, brioches, scrolls and knots have all left my kitchen.

While I have obsessed over the perfect flour and kneaded, proofed and baked my way through lockdown, I’ve also relished the reflective time I enjoy whenever I am in my kitchen.

Collaborative Practice has been in my kitchen thoughts a lot. You may not think sourdough and Collaborative Process have a lot in common but think again…

Along with Yotem Ottolenghi, my other current culinary idol is Nancy Silverton.  Last year, I learned some of the story of Nancy Silverton's sourdough when I heard an interview she gave while she was visiting for Wellington on a Plate. In the late 1980’s Silverton started La Brea bakery in Los Angeles as a side thought to her main endeavour, her restaurant. Silverton wanted to offer her restaurant patrons good bread. Although she had limited experience baking bread, she set about to develop her own sourdough starter. There was nothing like this in the US at that time except for some bakers in San Francisco creating the famous San Fran sourdough. 

Given the popularity of sourdough and artisan breads these days, it is hard to believe that when Silverton started her bakery, it received a very lukewarm reception. People complained there were no cakes at her bakery. People complained that the bread had too many holes, causing their peanut butter to fall through it. My personal favourite amid the grizzles was that people complained the bread was “dirty” because it had the flour still on it. Now, we regard that as a rustic-looking badge of artisanal authenticity for bread.

It took time to win people over to this new bread but, over time, Silverton’s bread was selling out by 11am. On occasions, the bakery had queues down the street. This all slowly culminated and built up to the point that in 2001, La Brea sold for an eye watering amount of money.

Hearing Nancy Silverton talk, I was reminded of the highs and lows of innovation and doing something new.

If you are a pioneer (or ‘early adopter’) of Collaborative Practice in your community, your experience of it’s uptake and popularity may be more “slow burn” than rapid inferno. You may experience others being disinterested in it. Some may openly deride it while others won’t “get it” or the need for it. In those circumstances, our enthusiasm for Collaborative Practice can quickly turn to a sense of futility.

I had this same experience. Out of sheer frustration and almost ready to give up on Collaborative Practice, I left my infant son on two occasions to long haul it to Texas and then Vancouver to try to find out how it was that some lawyers in North America were doing nothing but Collaborative Process work. I thought there must be a magic bullet I was not aware of. I had wanted that one golden key, that one magic ingredient that would make Collaborative Process cases the norm, not the alternative. I wanted the QUICK TO RISE, NO KNEAD recipe, not a sloooooowwwww sourdough.

The answers I got time and again were all akin to Nancy Silverton’s experience. The upshot of these stories, in the words of a certain NZ model touting shampoo, was … It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. 

While we have heard the anecdotes of Collaborative Practice sweeping through parts of Canada and North America like wildfire, for many, the reality was that wasn't always the experience. The frustration and slow grind was experienced by many lawyers who now solely practice using Collaborative Law and mediation. When I feel frustrated about how Collaborative Practice is developing in my community, I think of Nancy Silverton’s sourdough. Keep kneading away, hold on to your vision, tune out the detractors and it will happen! 

What's worked for you in developing acceptance of Collaborative Practice in your community?  I'd love to hear your thoughts over in The Law Lighthouse Group's private Facebook page.

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