Attorney Jodie McGill:A Firm Proponent of Collaborative Law 5/21/15 05/21/15 12:42:03 PM
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Jodie McGill of McGill Law says successes far outweigh failures in collaborative divorce cases.
Attorney Jodie McGill:
A Firm Proponent of Collaborative Law
By Julien R. Fielding
The Daily Record
Divorce is rarely easy. Depending on the circumstances, the process can be lengthy and expensive; families can become damaged, leaving everyone unhappy with the result.
But there is a better way to get divorced, said Jodie McGill of McGill Law, and that way is through collaborative law.
An alternative to litigation, collaborative law started 25 years ago in Minnesota by a domestic relations attorney named Stuart Webb.
“It is such a good option and, over the years, it has evolved,” she said. “Today, there is a Collaborative Practice attorney in nearly every state, in every province in Canada and in 22 countries worldwide. In Nebraska, we utilize the collaborative process for all kinds of domestic relations cases. In other areas, they use the collaborative process for not just domestic cases, but also for all kinds of civil disputes.”
The process begins with both parties signing a participation agreement, which states that they are not going to litigate.
“Each person has his and her own attorney. They each have an attorney advising them on the law, so the client has full knowledge of how the law applies to their situation and the agreements that they are making,” McGill said. “This gives us an opportunity to sit down and discuss matters. Everything is transparent; no one is hiding anything or being unethical. If [in the end] they agree that the collaborative processes isn’t working – and they decide to proceed toward litigation – they must retain new attorneys.”
Because the two parties must agree on the terms of a resolution, they lose the motivation to fight, she explained. “There isn’t any winning, because the parties have agreed to reach certain goals. Litigation is all about winning and, in the end, children can and often do get hurt.”
For various reasons, negotiations can stall, so sometimes mental-health professionals, commonly referred to as “coaches,” are involved in the collaborative law process. Other neutral, third party professionals who may also become involved include child specialists and/or independent financial advisors.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to make decisions when certain issues come up,” she said. “For instance, one party might ‘shut down’ whenever finances are mentioned. He or she might not feel informed enough to make a decision. One of the goals of the collaborative process is to assist the parties in making fully informed decisions.”
There are many reasons that McGill advocates for collaborative law.
“It works,” and it can be the most cost effective option. According to a 2009 study conducted by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, about 90 percent of cases end with an agreement reached through this process.
“In Nebraska, there have only been two cases that ended as unsuccessful,” McGill said. “And there is data out there on the national level that says, on the average, it is cheaper than litigation.
“More importantly, the parties have a much more positive experience with the collaborative process than they do with litigation. People are much more likely to follow the decree and much less likely to relitigate future issues. This is important – when a marriage ends, it does not mean that the parties will stop having interactions with one another.”
Even with collaborative law becoming more commonplace, a set of standards and guidelines to which all practitioners must adhere still doesn’t exist in every state.
This is why McGill champions the passage of the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (UCLA). “In Nebraska, there are only a dozen or so attorneys who practice collaborative law – all of whom are in Omaha – but more have been trained how to do it, and there has been some interest by attorneys in Lincoln who want to get training.
“We have four divorce coaches in Omaha, three child specialists and two financial specialists. The independent financial specialists – they are an optional party – will run futures, and will help the parties see what their assets will look like in five or 10 years. The financial specialists are neutral professionals who don’t take sides. The job of the child specialist is to act as a conduit for the needs of the children. They meet with the children and find out their needs and wants, then report to the parents and to the professionals. Divorce is an emotional time for children.”
McGill, Chris Lustgarten, Angela Lennon and Kristin Contryman, all lawyers in Omaha, worked hard to get the Uniform Collaborative Law Act put together, but were late getting it to the legislature. “It has to be in committees by January,” McGill said. “We are pushing for next year. We are going to try to get it approved by the ADR [Alternative Dispute Resolution] section of the Bar. If we have the Bar sponsor it, we don’t have to hire a lobbyist. If we did this on our own, we would have to take time off [from our practices] to present it to senators for support. We really need to get the word out about how this would benefit society; we want to illuminate that this is a more cost-effective, less adversarial alternative to regular litigated divorces.”
“I first heard about collaborative law from Chris Lustgarten,” McGill said.
“She explained the process and its advantages to me in about 60 minutes over lunch one day. I was instantly intrigued. I thought, ‘I can continue practicing law and keep the good aspects of my practice, such as assisting people through difficult times, explaining the process and the law, working toward an acceptable resolution and eliminate all of the bad things that typically go along with domestic work!’
“I had to learn more. I got so excited that I flew to Virginia a few months later for a three-day collaborative practice training seminar. During that training, I heard many attorneys talk about how they made the switch from litigated domestic cases to collaborative law. It just makes sense.”
To learn more about McGill’s efforts or about collaborative law, go to: www.collaborativepracticene.com.