The sad reality for many of my colleagues is that they have a very limited capacity to work remotely and it will take some time to catch up and be ready to effectively convert the negotiation process to one that seamlessly continues.
The capacity to innovate and shift with such difficult times is only partially about the software and a working from home policy. In my view, where a practitioner has adopted a collaborative, pragmatic approach to negotiations in the past it is that approach which will endure and potentially be the key to servicing clients and ultimately professional survival in coming months.
Why? Well, twenty years ago, and certainly when I started in practice, email sat on a standalone computer in the corner. The entire office got excited when one comes in. I can remember a senior practitioner at the Government office that I started work in, assuring me that given the security risks there was no chance that email would be available on our own computers. Clients came into your office to provide instructions in person. A letter was written (dictated to your secretary) and faxed or mailed to the client for their review. They then potentially came into the office again to advise of their instructions on the letter and the letter was sent. Two to three weeks later, the other lawyer having engaged in the same expensive and time-consuming process would send a letter back. Often those letters were less than respectful and potentially antagonised the conflict even more. The cycle then repeated 4 to 5 times more over months until either an agreement was brokered, or one party had enough and initiated proceedings. Not the most effective process and surely an artefact of history – unfortunately not. Perhaps ask yourself – is this what is happening in my matter right now?
Let’s compare it to another process. Lawyer A and Lawyer B have a robust relationship. A healthy respect, but more importantly a passionate desire to get that equitable outcome for their client ASAP. Lawyer A picks up the phone to Lawyer B after speaking with their client for the first time by video conference or phone (given the current climate). Lawyer A efficiently summarises the issues arising in the property settlement from his or her perspective, quickly emails over the documentation which allows for some clarity on those issues (having got the documents in anticipation from their client) and seeks an indication from Lawyer B as to what might be important from the perspective of his or her client. Lawyer B picks up the phone to his client, relays the above, and gathers what instructions and documentation is important given the earlier discussion. This might occur two to three times – no long verbose, antagonistic letters – sometimes it all happens in a day or week. No delay to seek instructions. No insistence upon physically taking instructions, and so much cheaper and more effective in terms of limiting the slow and painful spiral of your relationship with your former partner.
Importantly, the above model continues to work irrespective of COVID-19 and social distancing.
Both lawyers are intent on pushing negotiations down a cone – alleviating irrelevance, clarifying the issues, getting the evidence which definitively resolves factual disputes until finally, the only option is for both clients to pop out the pointy end of the column having embraced an equitable outcome.
Ultimately both lawyers need to be on the same page. If you think a lawyer is part of your problem, not the solution then give some thought to your own representation or to sending a link to this article to your former partner and querying whether both of you need to reset and find lawyers who are firmly working in the cone. Your emotional health, your capacity to communicate and your financial future relies on it.
Contact our team for assistance or a no-obligation second opinion today. We are able to assist you remotely in the current circumstances and can be available to you by phone and/or video conference to provide timely, pragmatic, expert family law advice from within the cone.