Book Review - "Collaborative Practice - Deepening the Dialogue"

Nancy J Cameron

The Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia
Published August 2004

Collaborative law is the fastest growing method of alternative dispute resolution in the world and it is the youngest creature in the Irish alternative dispute resolution jungle. With possible application across all fields of dispute resolution from family law to civil and commercial disputes, collaborative law has real potential to have a wide impact on the future shape of the Irish dispute resolution arena.

Public Information Evenings
The Association of Collaborative Practitioners will be hosting a series of Public Information Evenings around the country during the month of May. As more and more lawyers are training in collaborative law in Ireland (with an estimated 600 lawyers who have already completed basic training) it has become clear that the national appetite for learning more about the practical application of collaborative law is large.

Bible for Collaborative Law Practitioners
The beauty of the international nature of collaborative law is that international literature, in particular that generated in North America, provides valuable sources of guidance and debate for collaborative practitioners of all levels.

A book that can be seen as a bible for collaborative law practitioners around the world is Nancy J Cameron’s “Collaborative Practice : Deepening the Dialogue”. Written by a Canada-based collaborative law practitioner, this beautifully written book is easily accessible, practical and refreshing.

This is not a training manual or promotional manifesto. Rather, the writer engages in a process of reflection and analysis of a process which has been developing since 1990. She lifts the veil on collaborative practice, questioning and challenging while allowing the reader the benefit of her wisdom and extensive experience as a collaborative family law practitioner. The result is a wonderful book, written with honesty and integrity, littered with anecdotes, poetry and quotes which make it a pleasure to read.

On each page, the reader will find their desire for change and their enthusiasm for this innovative process reflected while also finding their questions about the practice of collaborative law mirrored, explored and answered with empathy and sincerity.

Divorce and Separation - Then and Now
Cameron explores the historical context in which divorce and separation has evolved in an effort to understand our personal, professional and societal relationship with marital breakdown and its impact on the players. In doing so, she addresses the inadequacies of the traditional Court process as a method of resolving complex personal family disputes while identifying the real possibility of achieving a healthy outcome for clients, their children and practitioners alike through the collaborative process.

While highlighting the huge benefits of enabling clients to acquire control of negotiation and empowering clients to make lasting decisions, she is also mindful to explore the new responsibilities and values of the collaborative lawyer within the process.

Brave New World for Practitioners
Cameron fearlessly grasps the nettles with which all initiate collaborative lawyers wrestle. She explores the paradigm shift, the disqualification clause and the full and frank disclosure obligations at the heart of collaborative process, acknowledging the importance of confronting and questioning these characteristics in order to strengthen collaborative practice as it develops.

She addresses the lawyer’s role as advocate in a model which is built to accommodate self-determination on the part of the client. She examines the lawyer’s need to learn how to listen to clients, not only listening to their words, but listening for and understanding the interests that lie beneath. She looks at the new communicative skills that lawyers embrace in their new role within a team and how collaborative lawyers must construct a relationship based on trust and openness with their colleagues within the process – she does not shy away from an exploration of the challenges that this necessarily poses for lawyers who have traditionally worked in the adversarial system.

While lawyers continue to be advocates and advisors for their clients within the collaborative process, they perform their role in a new environment and within a team setting. It is vital that we engage in a conscious analysis of this new role as it develops in order to protect and enhance the service that we provide to clients. Cameron provides plenty of food for thought as we dive into the deep end.

Interdiscipinary Practice - The Team
Collaborative law can be practiced with input from lawyers and clients only or it can be an interdisciplinary process which can call on the expertise of child specialists, divorce coaches/family consultants and financial neutrals to assist the parties during the process.

Here the role of the financial specialist is presented by Doreen Gardner Brown while Dr Susan Gamache contributes two chapters which give an overview of the roles of the divorce coach and the child specialist. She introduces these roles clearly and empathically, acknowledging that traditionally the disciplines of mental health and law operated on opposite sides of a family experiencing marital breakdown. She demystifies the roles of coach and child specialist, breaking them down into their component parts. In doing so, she allows the reader to learn the real benefits of incorporating the coach and child specialist into the collaborative model in order to provide support and guidance for the parties during the separation process so that they can work together towards developing a mutually acceptable model for co-parenting in a restructured family post-separation.

Beginners and Advanced Practitioners
This book will be of great interest to practitioners who have trained in collaborative law and who have some cases under their belts as it bravely delves into a realistic analysis of the lawyer’s role in the collaborative case and the lawyer’s new relationship with the client throughout the process. The book will be of equal interest to readers considering undertaking collaborative training and one chapter is set aside to provide a clear step-by-step overview of a collaborative case and the roles of the individual players throughout.

Cameron’s book encapsulates the spirit of generosity and openness that is at the heart of the international community of collaborative practitioners. The lawyer reading this book will be left with a real enthusiasm to ensure that every separating couple has the choice of collaborative law as the process within which to separate with dignity and respect.