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"I Want More Collaborative Process Cases!"

“I want more Collaborative Cases!”

I hear you. Whether you are ten minutes or ten years out of Collaborative Practice training,  if you have decided Collaborative Process is the way you want to work with your clients then you likely want more collaborative cases.

In my role with my local Collaborative Practice group I often hear lawyers saying they want assistance to get them more collaborative cases. I thought this may be an experience that is unique to Aotearoa New Zealand but then Australian Collaborative lawyer, Marguerite Picard, recently pointed out on social media, “This issue is internationally pervasive, and [it] sits oddly with me that collaborative training generates the idea that somebody else is in charge of delivering your cases to the door. Does anyone think that after admission to practice, after mediation or any other training? It’s a puzzle.” Amen to that.

Take a moment to think about what you mean when you say you want more collaborative cases- do you mean you are wanting clients turning up to your office as fully formed Collaborative Process cases?  How realistic is it to expect this, particularly if you live in a community where Collaborative Practice is in its infancy? Then consider what you have done to create this.

Without the application of your skill, time and effort, a beautiful origami crane is just a piece of paper sitting on your desk. And so it is with collaborative cases.

The good news is that, just like that paper on your desk waiting to be made into a crane, you already have collaborative cases! They are there in your practice, right now. They are the new client who is booked in next week. They are the files sitting in your cabinet that are travelling through a different process but that you could transfer to Collaborative Process or, at least, flex your collaborative skills on.

Seriously, how many of us aren’t busy with clients?  When I ask you “how are you?”, how soon will it be before you say “busy!”? How many of us feel overwhelmed with our case load?
Most of us are already busy lawyers with lots of clients coming our way. Within those new clients who walked in the door last week and those who will arrive this week, are collaborative cases.

So, how do you move these new clients towards being collaborative practice clients? It all lies with you. You are the GPS for your clients. Your clients come to you as the ‘expert’ – they want your guidance and advice. Often, they have never travelled this road before and things are looking mighty hazy for them. They seek clarity about what lies ahead and help to decide which of the different forks in the road they should choose to take. So, as a good GPS, are you going to guide them down the road that takes longer, has potholes and is riskier or the most safe, comfortable and efficient journey possible for them in their circumstances?

Changing up my initial intake and initial consultation processes were the most significant moves I made towards being a better GPS for my clients and transforming new clients into collaborative cases. From their very first touch points with my office, prospective clients received a flavour of what we were about and key messages about our practice philosophy and approach.

In consultations, I listened more to what was concerning my clients, what was important to them and getting in the way of them and a good night’s sleep. I spoke to them about all their process options (not just collaborative) and made it my mission to assist them to find the process that was going to be the safest, most empowering process for them and their families.

In most of my consultations, I barely touch on the law. This felt very alien to me at first because isn’t that what clients come to a lawyer for – the law? Did my clients mind? Not at all!  They didn't mind because clients come to a lawyer for more than just 'the law'. In fact, my experience is that the law is a very small part of their decision making. Feeling heard and understood, having clarity about what lies ahead and that it needn't be like the horror stories they'd been told all were part of a recipe for happy clients leaving my 'lawless' initial consultation.

Are you doing this with your new clients and still have no collaborative cases in sight? Frustrating, isn't it? Rather than continuing on in frustration or, worse, giving up, I suggest taking some time to constructively analyse what is going on – what are the rocks in the way?

Do you need to keep refining and working on your client intake and consultations? They’re always works in progress!

Are you attracting clients who are a wrong "fit" for how you like to practice? Then you may be well served to identify actions to reframe your reputation and your marketing messages so you are achieving a better “fit”. “She’s a real shark!” may not be a message you want prospective clients to have been told about you if you’re trying to build your collaborative practice! Similarly, if other local collaborative lawyers have only ever known your litigious side, they may be hesitant to launch into a collaborative process with you.

Maybe your clients want to use Collaborative Process but the other party’s lawyer is not trained in the process. What actions can you take within your community to encourage and make it easy for others to train? Is your client able to speak with the other party about Collaborative Process? I have had cases where the process happened because one party changed lawyers.

Remember, there are still actions you can take so that you work as a collaborative lawyer even when you have no collaborative cases and, like that origami crane, those desired cases won't create themselves!

I'd love to hear what were the game changers for you in building your collaborative cases!

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