I still remember standing in my office, opening my mail and reading the initial letter from David Hoffman and Rita Pollak convening a meeting to introduce Collaborative Law to Massachusetts. Having been a mediator and (reluctant) litigator for a number of years, I could feel the excitement building—here was the missing piece—the new tool we could give clients to help them resolve their disputes. Mediation is great but, I always felt that some clients needed something more. Collaborative Law felt like that “something more.” I had not heard of it before but, I was eager to learn.
The first meeting took place at David’s office at Hill and Barlow in Boston in December 1999. The conference room was filled and I looked around at people I knew and many I did not. And, of course, there were bagels! One of the unique features of our group was, and continues to be, the inclusion of business or “civil” practitioners. Collaborative Law began with family law and that continues to be where it is best known but, David and Rita had the foresight to include practitioners (all lawyers back then) from different legal disciplines. Meeting and working with these varied professionals has continued to be one of the greatest gifts of Collaborative Practice. As David and Rita shared what they had learned about Collaborative Law, there was enthusiasm and there were lots of questions. We decided to meet again soon and our monthly meetings began.
Not everyone who participated in that first meeting joined what became the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council but, even those who did not were supportive of our efforts. A core group continued to meet and we arranged to bring Pauline Tesler, one of the pioneers in Collaborative Law, to Boston in April 2000 for our first training. With the help of Doug Reynolds, one of our founding members and a business attorney, we incorporated, drew up bylaws, elected a Board and officers and began to connect with other potential members and, of course, started getting the word out to prospective clients.
There was so much to do—we had to figure out what Collaborative Law was so we could share it and practice it. In June 2000, we held our second training—and the first one MCLC presented (with some help from Stu Webb, the founder of Collaborative Law, who graciously participated in our fledgling training). The training was held at MCLE and, to everyone’s surprise, they had to move us from a smaller room in the basement to the auditorium because so many people attended. We integrated family and business law into the training to illustrate the application of the process to various underlying conflicts. The chutzpah of putting on this training when we barely knew what Collaborative Practice was ourselves was not lost on us!
We were leaning about Collaborative Law and its application. We were also learning about websites, marketing and organization. As we connected with the greater Collaborative community, we also learned about the value of having financial professionals and mental health professionals as part of the Collaborative Team. Our community continued to grow and develop.
Personally, I was finally able to stop litigating and focus on mediation and Collaborative Law practice. Both client-centered and interest-based processes. The trainings I participated in had application in both processes. I became a better mediator as well as Collaborative practitioner. One drawback of family mediation in Massachusetts is that usually only the mediator and the clients are in the room—not always but, usually. The Collaborative process involves a team of professionals. The team supports each other and the clients. We also have the opportunity to observe other professionals “in action” and learn from them. I value their feedback in the moment and in the de-briefs. Having a team of professionals to coordinate with in pre-briefs allows us to best serve the needs of the specific parties in the negotiations that follow, resulting in outcomes that truly meet their needs. Knowing that this community of professionals is available as a resource for my clients and for me is a huge asset.
MCLC continues to grow and develop. With attorneys, we now include mental health professionals, facilitators and financial professionals as core team members as well as other related professionals who are part of our community. All the core professionals are eligible to serve on our Board and many members participate in committees and practice groups. We have an extensive website that serves the public as well as members. We have developed practice guidelines and mentors to help team members in their practice.
We have 12 regional or specialized practice groups and committees focused on public education, membership, education and training, access to Collaboration and governance. A few years ago we hired our first Executive Director to better organize the Council and serve our membership. Our introductory training has been refined and revised over the years and continues to evolve. We now draw on the collective experience of many hundreds of cases. We offer continuing education opportunities for our members with internal presenters and presenters from outside our local community. We foster, support and participate in the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals as members, committee members, Board members and workshop presenters. Two of our local members have served as IACP presidents. We are recognized in the greater Collaborative community for our participation, innovation and dedication. We have helped grow Collaborative Law Practice to the professional process it is today and we have developed a group of like-minded professionals dedicated to that process, our community and the clients we serve.
The initial letter invited the “merely curious [and those] interested solely in learning more about collaborative law.” We need to stay curious and continue to evolve and develop. In the 15+ years that I have been involved, MCLC and Collaborative Law Practice continue to be open to new ideas, new approaches, new applications and new practitioners. And, we love gathering together!