During the initial meeting I focus on creating rapport with my prospective clients. I attempt to be a calming presence at time of fear and turmoil. My years of experience, in litigation as well as Collaboration, provide a comfortable safety net. I encourage clients to take a deep breath, as well as and a moment to consider how he or she wishes to problem solve. By emphasizing his or her power to choose how he or she wishes to go about ending the marriage, I am helping to provide a sense of control to the client, exactly when the client is feeling most out of control. By offering reassurance at a time of doubt, I am able to providing an anchor. I often ask the client to imagine to worst nightmares, and then we take the time to defuse those fears stemming from what they have heard from others or imagined for themselves. If the problems are real, we create strategies for dealing with them. A timetable of what to expect and a discussion of alternatives goes a long way towards calming a client down. If a referral to a divorce coach or family relations specialist is in order we do that too.
[What specific strategies do you use in order to create this sense of calmness and control?]
I then launch into the explanation of Collaborative Law and how it compares to litigation, mediation and traditional attorney negotiation. Again, I emphasize the power and control which the Collaborative Process provides to clients. I explain how we approach the problems from the clients' perspectives as opposed to a judge’s or lawyer’s perspective.
I reframe questions about how much and how long, to questions about the client's family, spouse, work and life. Allowing the client to tell his or her story is essential. General areas of concern can be covered, such as equitable division of marital property, what child support is for and what determines spousal support. However, I do not get into specifics or establish firm expectations.
We then return to the Collaborative Process. The client will want to know how long it will take and how much it will cost. “It all depends,” is usually the answer. Then we launch into examining whether or not the spouse is in the same frame of mind as my client in regard to proceeding with the divorce. Who is the “leaver”? Is there another lawyer? Again, the important piece for most clients is that with the Collaborative Process, the clients control the pace of the case. The clients have more empowerment and they can schedule meetings as quickly or as slowly as suits their needs, without regard to a court’s docket.
The client usually leaves with my fee contract, several brochures about the Collaborative Process and s short list of other Collaborative Lawyers for the spouse to consult with.
I charge an hourly rate for Collaborative work. I tell most clients, that a case typically takes three to six meetings, and that each meeting is about two hours in length. I usually require a retainer equal to about nine hours’ worth of work. The retainer is symbolic also in that payment requires commitment to me and to the process. It is representative of some degree of trust. The brochures which I hand out are produced by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals; they are a convenient tool for educating “the other” spouse. I very often write the name and contact information of one or two other Collaborative lawyers on the back of the brochure and encourage my client to give the recommendation of the Collaborative Process and the listed Collaborative Lawyers to their spouse who did not have the benefit of meeting with me.