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A Collaborative Credo: What We Can Learn From Scouting

By Jennifer Jackson, JD (2003, Collaborative Review, Volume 5, Issue 2)

Given our "sound-bite" society, a bullet-point list of words to live by could be a useful tool for collaborative practitioners. To ward off those who would characterize our zeal for collaboration as being "born again", the "Ten Commandments of Collaborative Practice" was vetoed in favor of a Collaborative Credo, inspired by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

Our Motto: Be Prepared

This Boy Scout motto is the key not only for good scouting but also good for collaborative practice in my view. As a collaborative practitioner you must prepare:

Yourself- through constant training, reading and working on achieving the paradigm shift that is the foundation for thinking and working collaboratively
Your collaborative counterpart - by staying in touch with each other and in mutual control of the case
Your client - by making it clear what is expected of her and what she can expect from the process, and by keeping close track of what she is experiencing
The case - by preparing for each meeting as thoroughly as if you were trying the matter that day. Many practitioners are attracted to collaborative practice in the mistaken belief that it is "easier". They do not see the need to prepare, and instead rely on the friendliness of their collaborative counterparts. Nothing is more frustrating to a client than to have the attorneys shuffle through papers looking for things, or saying things like "oh, have we done that already?" or "did you give me that document?", forgetting things like whether or not the clients have children, and having no discernable plan for the meeting, let alone creating conditions for successful negotations to completion. Being prepared also keeps you and your client "on your toes" and in a much better position to evaluate - on the spot - the options your counterparts are developing, rather than being in the unfortunate position of agreeing to something and later having to say ".....we thought it over and we didn’t realize.....and now we don’t agree..."

Our Oath

"On my honor, I will do my best to...."

Do Your Duty: Obey the "Law"

Be professional. Whatever your profession, you have a code of ethics that you have a professional duty to honor. If you are a lawyer, remember that you are still representing your client within the constraints of all ethical rules and all applicable codes of professional responsbility. You are bound by the family code in your state, and must diligently comply with its requirements, such as exchanging disclosure and filing required documents in a timely and thorough manner.

Help Other People at All Times

As a mental health professional and financial professional, the message here is clear: you are helping both parties to develop skills that will enable them to take control over their own lives, finances, and the case. As a lawyer, you are your client’s advocate and guide. It is your job to help her navigate the rapids of the process. You are also in a position to help both of the other participants in the process, by diligently doing the tasks you are assigned, by keeping an open mind, and by contributing ideas that honor the goals of both parties.

Keep Yourself Strong

The clients are looking to you to model newbehavior for them. But too many lawyers shift right back to their old paradigms the minute they find themselves at the negotiating table. Protect the integrity of the process - you know from experience what works and what doesn’t; don’t allow your clients to sabotage the case by skipping over process elements that you know are essential, or changing the procedural ground rules they don’t like

Keep Yourself Mentally "Awake"

Collaborative practice is not easy. We need to be prepared and constantly on the lookout for our own "reverse paradigm shifts".

Keep Yourself Morally Straight

Honor the guidelines and principles. If you become aware that your client is hiding assets, jockeying to gain unfair advantage, strategizing to the detriment of the other party (such as using "shadow counsel" to prepare for litigation without advising the other participants), or using the process to prejudice the other party, you must take steps to right the situation or get out of the case.

Our Law

The Girl Scout Law provides inspiration points for the more empathic side of Collaboration, some of which need little elaboration:

"I Will Do My Best to..."

Be Honest and Fair

We all think of ourselves as honest and fair. But much of what lawyers are traditinally taught puts us at the very edges of those qualities in our work. Therapists too, can become aligned in unhelpful ways with one spouse’s point of view in the divorce. This law invites us to move decisicely toward unconditional honesty and fairness in our collaborative work far back from the edge.

Be Friendly and Helpful

Our professional boundaries and armor that we grow like a shell in traditional divorce work can soften and become more humane in collaboration, to the benefit of all participants. Concern for the whole person is implicit in the collaborative model. We all benefit from exuding warmth, empathy, and consideration to the other participants in the colaboraiv process.

Be Considerate and Caring

Be patient. Be patient with Collaborate Practice: the cases will come. We have much work to do to get the message to the masses. Be patient with the process in each case that you do: it is hard work and does not come easily for us. Be patient with others in the process. Be patient with yourself. This is a journey that will last throughout your career.

Be Courageous and Strong

Have the courage to be flexible, because the process must meet the needs of the participants, but be strong with regard to the core principles of collaboration.

Be Responsible for What You Say and Do

Take responsibility for errors or miscommunications. Forgive others. A true apology is never followed by a "but...", and goes a long way to restoring order and structure.

Respect Myself and Others

Be humble. Do not pretend to know everything about Collaborative Law or presume to think that you know what you are doing. You don’t. We are all learning. Our counterparts and all of the members of the Collaborative Divorce Team are learning too. The respect you have for your collaborative counterpart and the other team members shows and serves as a model for client behavior. Give the other counsel and all team members, in your client’s presence, the benefit of the doubt. Do not openlyor privately denigrate the other counsel or any team member for inexperience in Collaboration as it destroys your client’s faith in the process. Do not discuss your own bad experiences with or rumors about the other counsel or any team member’s inability to cooperate. Do not allow your client to trap you into showing disrespect for his or her spouse, as that destroys the safe place you are trying to create for clients.

Use Resources Wisely

Respect the use of your client’s time and money. Be prepared for meetings, avoid unnecessary and/or duplicate expenditures, choose other team members wisely, as appropriate to each situation.

Make the World a Better Place

Is there a better Mission Statement for Collaborative practice than this last Girl Scout Law?

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