When a conflict arises, one avenue for resolution is filing a lawsuit. However, relying on the court system to solve a problem is not the most efficient option. Litigation rarely delivers quick results, and the costs and stress associated with litigation can be immense.
Sometimes, parties turn to alternative dispute resolution to solve legal problems quickly and at a lesser expense. Recently, North Carolina added Collaborative Law to the list of alternative dispute resolutions available for civil conflicts.
As a cost-effective alternative to litigation, collaborative law not only delivers a more expedient resolution than the court can provide, but it also provides an outcome that is mutually beneficial to both parties because it is created by the parties themselves rather than a disinterested judge or jury.
What is Collaborative Law?
Collaborative Law is an alternative dispute resolution through which parties in conflict work together through interest-based negotiation to find a resolution that meets the needs of both parties. The collaborative law process begins with an agreement in which parties and their attorneys commit to working together to come up with a solution that is mutually beneficial to both parties. Parties who choose collaborative law as the avenue for solving conflicts rather than relying on litigation can speak openly with the other party about the conflict, share their needs, and have the power to create and adopt a resolution that meets their needs. Unlike litigation which can put strain on any future dealings between parties, collaborative law often preserves pre-existing relationships by eliminating the adversarial nature of the traditional court process by promoting transparency, communication, and collaboration.
Collaborative law is not new. Though it was first used exclusively as an alternative option for resolving family law conflicts, it has since been codified in North Carolina for broader application in a variety of civil matters. For decades, collaborative law has delivered successful outcomes in often volatile and emotional family conflicts such as separation and divorce. If collaborative law can be effective in some of the most adversarial legal situations, it can easily accommodate other civil conflicts where preserving the relationship between parties is crucial to future dealings. Collaborative law can be useful for business disputes, construction claims, employment issues, and even probate and estate matters.
What are the benefits of Collaborative Law?
Collaborative law allows parties to resolve conflict through a series of round-table meetings. In relying on collaborative law instead of litigation to solve problems, parties save time and money compared to the cost of litigation. Rather than adhering to the rigid rules of the court, collaborative law allows parties to shape the rules to meet their needs including the preservation of the private nature of shared information.
Avoiding litigation means there is less disruption to each party’s business. There are no lengthy court hearings, no depositions, and no need for countless hours spent searching through documents and business records to respond to discovery requests. Instead, collaborative law gives parties the flexibility and control needed to resolve conflict on their own time rather than being at the mercy of the court calendar. This means a resolution is possible within a matter of weeks as opposed to the months or years it may take to litigate the case.
Additionally, resolving conflict through collaborative law means the parties work together to create the rules and settle on a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties. Instead of a judge hearing each party’s argument, evaluating the evidence, and deciding on a resolution, collaborative law gives parties the power to make all decisions including the final resolution which often preserves business relationships that might be strained through traditional litigation.
How does Collaborative Law work?
Collaborative law provides a transparent form of conflict resolution in which parties engage in face-to-face discussions. Unlike the adversarial process of litigation, collaborative law encourages parties to share information, preserve relationships, and work together to reach a resolution that is favorable for both parties. Unlike other forms of conflict resolution, the parties control the outcome instead of a judge, jury, or arbitrator.
First, the parties enter a written agreement to use the collaborative process to resolve the dispute. This agreement includes a commitment to not pursue litigation while engaged in the collaborative process. Each party is represented by a collaboratively trained counsel during the process and in the event the process is unsuccessful, and the parties decide to move forward with litigation, new counsel must be obtained by each party.
Once all parties agree to the collaborative process, there is a round-table meeting where parties and their counsel come together as a team to identify and share the information needed to find a resolution. Parties may share goals, individual interests, and explore resolution options. Several of these collaborative team meetings may be necessary as the discussion continues, allowing the parties to understand each other’s needs and work together to propose solutions.
After all possible solutions have been shared, the collaborative team evaluates the proposed solutions and selects a proposal that meets the needs of all parties involved. There is no loser in collaborative law. Rather, all parties win with a settlement agreement they each played a role in proposing and adopting.
What is the Uniform Collaborative Law Act?
The Uniform Collaborative Law Act (UCLA) was codified for use in family law matters in 2003 and expanded for broader civil application last year. The UCLA sets the basic parameters for collaborative law including the judicial enforceability of settlement agreements arising out of collaborative law, restricting attorneys involved in the collaborative process from continuing representation into litigation if an agreement cannot be reached through collaborative law, and rules about the statute of limitations and confidential nature of the collaborative process.
For more information about Collaborative Law, contact Stephen D. Coggins, a partner with Rountree Losee. Mr. Coggins is active in the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association through which he receives continuous training as an Collaborative Attorney.