Confident creativity

One of the biggest fears collaborative family lawyers face is impasse in round table discussions. How do you get around it? Stephen Root from Berwins believes that creativity is key.
The concept of ‘getting creative’ within the divorce process probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind as a family lawyer. But, when you are focused on reaching outcomes that are right for your clients, no two situations are the same. Discussions can – and do – stall, and this is where thinking differently and being creative can help you help your clients reach agreement.


Breaking the impasse

Anyone who has experienced a collaborative case will, I imagine, also have experienced impasse.  That point where discussions stall, both clients are at odds with each other and nobody wants to back down. In my experience, this is where creativity comes into its own.
Sometimes, just setting out lots of options, no matter how ridiculous, gets people thinking differently.  “Just humour me for now…” is a phrase I find myself using a lot in these situations, and I will outline a few different scenarios. Often that gets clients thinking, and from there we can pull the discussions back to something that is more closely aligned with their respective priorities. 
There are so many ideas, tools and techniques we can use in these situations, a lot of which are well documented, but I want to focus on the role of creativity in collaborative law.


Getting creative

Often, I find that clients aren’t afraid of being creative when it comes to coming up with solutions. They know themselves and each other better than anyone and know what would and wouldn’t work for them. This means they’re often great at coming up with those ‘what if…?’ scenarios - but do we do enough as their lawyers to encourage that creative thinking?

I believe that our role as lawyers is to encourage creativity, and then help clients work their ideas through to something that will work within the parameters of the law. Sometimes, letting clients loose to think in this way can be scary, because the solutions they come up with aren’t always the solutions we would have come up with. Having the confidence to let clients suggest ideas and focus on what’s important to them and what they want is empowering and, in my experience, it leads to some of the best and most productive discussions from which solutions are reached.
Our job isn’t to limit clients’ creativity and try to shoe-horn them into what we would normally do. I believe that our role is to help clients find their “fair”. They are better placed than anyone to decide what they think is fair rather than leaving it to a judge to decide. We’re there to reality check those ideas, make sure clients are making informed decisions at the right time, and keep them within the parameters of the law.
Getting to the bottom of what is important to your clients is the key. You’re not going to get to that through the traditional process. You’re only going to get that through open dialogue. So, my advice to you this Collaborative Family Law Week is to let go and have the confidence to let your clients be creative. You’ll be amazed at where it takes them – and you!

Stephen Root is a collaborative family lawyer at Berwins Solicitors in Harrogate. Contact him to find out more about the collaborative approach.

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