by Justin Kelsey, Past President of MCLC.

If you have a court hearing scheduled in the next few weeks, most likely you've been told it's postponed.  While some hearings will be scheduled telephonically and by video conference, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely causing significant delays in obtaining a hearing and an order or judgment. (For updates on the Massachusetts court's current status check here.)  These delays are understandable as the court and the bar figure out how to adjust to this crisis.  Regardless of how necessary these precautions are, though, the experience for individuals going through conflict must be frustrating, disappointing, and in some cases devastating.

Now is the time to consider your alternatives to court.
 
Collaborative law is one option for those looking to resolve their issues without further delay.  Many of the collaboratively trained dispute resolution professionals already have experience using videoconferencing to meet with clients and for us, our business has continued almost uninterrupted.  The majority of our clients have opted to continue receiving collaborative services via videoconferencing rather than postponing their meetings.  It's not the same as being in person, but for clients, it's better than waiting to address their pressing issues.
 
So, if you are frustrated by the necessary delays in the court process, consider you other options.  If you're looking for trained collaborative profesisonals you can find a list of collaborative professionals here.  If you have concerns about affording a full collaborative team learn about our Access to Collaborative Law Reduced Fee Panel by clicking here.
 
Even if you don't want to convert your case to a full Collaborative Law process, consider using some of the tools that Collaborative Law offers in order to increase the chances that your case can be resolved outside of court.  To read more about the different tools available in Collaborative Law read this article from three of our members: Improving Negotiations using Collaborative Values: A Checklist of Tools.
 
Finally, this crisis is also an opportunity to think about how we plan to deal with conflict in the future.  We can continue business as usual when this crisis has passed (which it will), or we can reflect on whether this crisis has highlighted a better way to approach conflict.  Take these steps to be better prepared the next time an emergency situation occurs:
  • Get to know collaborative professionals who can be a resource for your family in times of crisis.  Don't assume your lawyer or the court is going to be there to help, or that they should be your first call when there is a conflict.  
  • For professionals, get trained in collaborative law so you can provide additional service options to your clients (click here to learn about upcoming collaborative law training in the fall).
  • Encourage the Massachusetts Bar Association (or your local bar association) to add collaborative representation as a service option in their lawyer referral directory.  This has been proposed before to the Mass Bar and rejected, but it seems like it may finally be time to recognize how important it is to have alternatives to the court, and that the professionals who offer those alternatives offer a vital service.
 
Amended from a post originally published on the Skylark Blog.
 

 

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