May 14, 2015

Don’t Forget About ‘The Team’

Categories: Collaborative LawDivorce

461555387-co-workers-during-a-team-building-exercise-gettyimagesI have finally fulfilled my responsibility as a new member of the Collaborative Law Institute to take the two-part training, known as the New Collaborative Experience. The training, which takes place over two Fridays a week apart, is generally offered twice a year, in May and November, and I missed the May training last Spring because I was “suffering” through a cushy ABA CLE program in Bermuda on Assisted Reproductive Technology. Still, I regretted that I was unable to attend the CLI training, and glad that I was finally able to fit it in.

What I was most looking forward to about the training was the inculcation of Collaborative principles that would finally enable me to assume representation of clients in Collaborative cases. Although I was broadly familiar with Collaborative practice – my supervising attorney is very active in the Collaborative community, and it was her influence that impelled me toward Collaborative practice in general – I didn’t know specifically what the training would hold in store. I knew that key parts of the Collaborative mission were to help divorcing couples through the dissolution process with dignity and, as far as possible, good will, to avoid litigation, and to safeguard the well-being of any children of the relationship. I believed strongly in the underpinnings of Collaborative thinking, and I had attended several Collaborative-themed seminars and conferences in the year between my passing the Bar and finally attending the New Collaborative Experience. Part of me was even skeptical that the training would have anything additional to offer me, since I had been steeped in Collaborative ideology over the past year.

What I found out was that my thinking about the Collaborative process was missing a key component: the involvement of the Team. It was not that I was unaware of the existence of Collaborative mental health and financial professionals; it was just that I underestimated the centrality of the roles of neutral coaches, child specialists, and financial analysts to the Collaborative vision. Instead, my vision of the Collaborative process was one in which two attorneys worked together with their clients to forge the best divorce possible, with the occasional involvement, as necessary, of other neutrals. As a result, as a newer attorney, I felt a good deal of apprehension about my involvement in Collaborative cases, or any case for that matter, because I imagined I would be called upon to demonstrate expertise in areas with which I was just beginning to develop familiarity. What a huge relief and revelation, then, that the involvement of other neutrals as part of a Collaborative team is central to the Collaborative process. I realized that I could let go of my need (and perhaps inevitable failure) to know everything about everything, and instead could cede expertise to other team members who had the training and experience to take it on. Indeed, I came to understand that the “Collaborative” label referred not just to the aspirational relationship between the parties, but to the relationships among everyone involved in the process. How could I have missed a distinction as crucial as this for an entire year?

Traditional divorce litigation not only pits parties against each other in ways that are counterproductive, but it also calls upon the attorney to wear multiple hats. Certainly, traditional divorce can involve neutral financial and mental health professionals as well, but the attorney nonetheless retains a central position as the ringleader of the process. The Collaborative process, with its focus on the synergy of the team, relieves some of the focus and pressure on the attorney to do it all.


Joshua Gitelson comes to the practice of law via a first career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, as a film editor and writer for motion pictures and television. The son of a lawyer on the one hand and a clinical psychologist on the other, Josh has gravitated toward family law as an amalgam of these two “family businesses.” His parents’ amicable divorce inspired him to help others through the divorce process with as little rancor and conflict as possible. As a result, Josh has embraced the collaborative divorce model as a technique to complement his work on divorce in the traditional litigation mode. Learn more at

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