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Collaborative Law — To Tell or Not To Tell?

by | Nov 15, 2022 | Collaborative Law

What do Collaborative Law (CL) professional team members need to know about each other, and their private or professional lives, to provide the most benefit to clients? This was the topic of an International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) webinar on June 14, 2022, presented by Attorney Karen J. Levitt and her colleague, Gina Arons, Psy.D. An international group of more than 35 people, including participants from the United States, Canada, Spain, and Malaysia, joined Karen and Gina for the webinar. It was wonderful to gather Collaborative Law professionals from around the world and to have the opportunity to present and discuss this important topic.

What Does “To Tell or Not to Tell” Mean?

The Collaborative Law professional “team” varies from case to case. While there are always two attorneys and usually a divorce coach or case facilitator, other professionals such as financial neutrals, business valuators, real estate appraisers, family financial advisors or estate planners may also be part of the “team,” either throughout the case or at discrete points when needed. The CL professionals are there to advise and assist clients in navigating the CL process, providing guidance and expertise toward settlement by agreement.

“To tell or not to tell” means a CL professional determining whether they should or need to provide personal or professional information that may be relevant to a case or to enhance team communications. Why does it matter? It can result in a high functioning professional team that trusts and respects each other, giving clients the best environment for collaborative settlement negotiations and the potential for agreement. It is also important because professionals working together may have or make assumptions which are incorrect, potentially affecting the working of the team and therefore the case. A “tell” might help clarify or correct an assumption and lead to greater cohesion and understanding.

Balancing the Professional with the Personal

The professional team is made up of human beings and, as they say, “life happens,” even to professionals. For example, the professionals may have different backgrounds that influence their views and reactions to case issues or the parties themselves; one of the professionals may have experienced divorce either as a child or adult or even be going through divorce at the same time that they have a CL case in progress; a team member may know they have a different style than another team member and be worried that will create conflict; or a team member may be going through an illness or dealing with an elderly parent which they know will affect scheduling of meetings and the time it will take for a case to complete.

Team members should be aware and be prepared to address anything that might affect the functioning of the professional team so that the impact on the clients is minimized. However, it is up to the professional’s own independent judgment to determine what to “tell.” The program presented by Karen and Gina delved into the nuances of “to tell or not to tell.” Not everything has to be shared – a professional will need to determine if the information is relevant, if it will benefit the clients and/or the process, if it will enhance the functioning of the team without creating privacy or ethical issues or impacting one’s dignity, who to “tell” (the entire team or just one member such as the coach?), and how to do so. A professional may be concerned that a “tell” will have a negative impact on them personally or professionally. The professional will have to use self-reflection and be thoughtful about whether to “tell or not to tell.”

Consider What’s Best in each Situation

The biggest takeaway from the webinar was the importance of CL professionals having an ongoing awareness of the concept of “to tell or not to tell” throughout the case. The CL professionals should, at the very first case prebrief, discuss assumptions and expectations regarding what information needs to be shared, when, with whom, and how. The CL professionals should maintain this awareness throughout the case, as life doesn’t just happen at the beginning of a case, but is organic and happens at the middle and end as well. At the end of the day, each professional makes their own decision whether “to tell or not to tell”, but the awareness allows for the professional to self-reflect and also think about the impact on the team, clients and process as well.

Karen and Gina ended their webinar with a quote that each of them thought captured the essence of the concept of “to tell or not to tell.” Karen used a quote attributed to Socrates – “Is it true; is it kind, or is it necessary?” Gina quoted Alan Alda, who said, “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

So, to all CL professionals, think about what might bring light to the CL team and process and how that might benefit clients. Consider your biases and blind spots, your personal and professional boundaries, your expectations about team members and the process, and your own sense of ethics and privacy and dignity when weighing the pros and cons of whether “to tell or not to tell” – you will surely then come to a decision with which you are comfortable. Regardless of what you decide, your awareness of and self-reflection on this important issue will be a positive contribution to the creation of and working relationship of the CL team.

To learn more about Collaborative Law as an effective way to resolve family law matters contact us.