Collaborative Team Models

Collaborative Team Models differ, according to Gary Direnfeld,  as collaborative practice moves along a continuum from unidisciplinary to transdisciplinary collaborative team models. (See article here ).   But before we look at the models, I think it’s important to understand how we got there.

When collaborative practice first surfaced in Toronto and the GTA around the turn of the century many lawyers struggled to understand the difference between a less adversarial model in comparison to litigation where couples resolved their conflicts in a court of law.  Instead, the collaborative approach allowed couples to explore resolutions they thought were the most beneficial to their own families while having their lawyers present to ensure the outcome worked towards a balanced agreement and that the clients didn’t give away much more than the family law model suggested.  These agreements tended to be less challenged as the clients worked in a more self-determined process and the hostility that litigation left parents with after the ink on the Separation Agreement was dry was mitigated by a much less adversarial process.  A clear option for more healthier families after all was said and done.

As lawyers grappled with understanding the paradigm shift that the collaborate approach offered the cases tended to be unidisciplinary.  As experience and confidence grew within their own profession it became clear that, in some cases, other professionals added value to the process and thus, the multidisciplinary team model began to surface.  It wasn’t long after that the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborative team models came to be as each professional began to understand, more fully, what the other divorce professionals had to offer.

I know collaborative lawyers, for example, that will not work on a case unless the clients see a family professional first.  Why?  It offers some insight as to how to work towards resolution if there is some family dynamic that has to be considered.  Often, lawyers do not understand the full financial affect of what it is they are negotiating.  Why?  They don’t project their client’s financial outcomes or the effects of potential financial resolution options at the time of negotiation. How will this financial decision affect the family in ten years or twenty years time?  Often, armed with this knowledge, negotiations can be tailored to address the spouses financial concerns in a much more comprehensive fashion.

In his article, Direnfeld offers some guidance as to how the collaboration team models should be taken into account.  At my Collaborative Practice Group in Peel/Halton it was suggested that the process was client driven and that we, as divorce professionals, couldn’t push clients into one of these four process categories.  But Direnfeld explains that there is movement and fluidity between the models.  They are meant to give guidance of how the collaborative team approach has evolved (and how it continues to evolve) as we strive to meet our client’s needs on a case by case basis.

At my Small Practice Group in Toronto we discussed the need for confidentiality in the collaborative team approach.   As an example, clients could tell the financial professional something that the legal team isn’t aware of.  Should it be shared with the collaborative team?  As a financial divorce professional my clients will often tell me personal wishes that don’t have much to do with the property division negotiation.  A client may wish to take their children on a European vacation in 3 years at a total cost of $15,000.  Is that something that the legal team needs to know to negotiate a settlement?  What if that client doesn’t want their spouse to know that is what they are thinking in fear it might be disclosed to the children before the ability to meet this wish is calculated?  Still, as a financial professional I am going to put that expense in the final projection so the client has a ‘real life’ financial plan in their hands but does the collaborative team need to know?  What really needs to be known to the collaborative team and is it my responsibility as a Financial Divorce Specialist to determine what is important to disclose and what isn’t?  What happens if a client asks me not to tell the collaborative team something that is very important to the negotiation?

Some lawyers don’t feel comfortable offering to bring in other professionals into the negotiation because they fear that clients will see a perceived increase in cost.  More experienced collaborative lawyers understand the more comprehensive solution that non-legal professionals bring to the table.  As Direnfeld states in the article, “Other lawyers believe that cost is mitigated by the value-add of the other team members and the likelihood of an improved process and outcome. Cost / benefit outcome research is not available and hence decisions tend to be argued on the basis of anecdotal information and the value the respective lawyer places on each model by virtue of their training or experience. However, many believe that as the legal community fully comes to appreciate the value and power of ever evolving team models, the “sell” will fall away to a notion of “standard operating procedures” where working in fulsome teams will be taken for granted and hence unchallenged.”  Many experienced collaborative professionals adhere to the team approach as standard due to the more comprehensive settlements that the collaborative team model allows thereby providing settlements that are fine-tuned and tailored to the family dynamics both now and in the future.

My question, however, is “What is the risk of working in a unidisciplinary model when the clients need a (family or financial professional) team approach and it’s not offered by the legal professionals?” “Does the influence of the external professionals, who are not involved in the collaborative team model approach, increase the risk of negatively affecting process and potential resolution?”


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