Closing the Deal

By Joryn

When you consult, how often are you able to “close the deal,” to sign your consult up for a collaborative divorce or some other courtless process that you know in your heart is far healthier than a litigated divorce? Don’t both clients have to sign on for any process other than litigation? But if you don’t talk to the spouse not sitting in your office, how can you expect to “close that deal”?

Many of us are still uncomfortable talking to the other (even if unrepresented) spouse, even if it’s only about the choice of process that the couple must make jointly or else land in litigation. Why? Because we are, quite rightly, concerned about how to respond if that person asks questions that call for legal advice.

Apparently, it never occurs to us that “teaching” law, which mediators and law professors do all day long, is not “practicing” law! How many family mediators are financial and mental health professionals, rather than lawyers? Yet they still discuss what the dissolution of marriage statutes say with their clients.

Law professors spend their days educating lawyers-to-be, yet we don’t require them to pass the state bar where they teach. Why? Because they aren’t practicing law.

I recently presented a webinar on marketing collaborative practice. Beforehand, I surveyed the attendees on how comfortable they are marketing their practices. Keep in mind that these were 99 collaborative professionals who were willing to spend an hour committed to learning more about marketing this process.

Here is what I discovered:

  • 88.6% of us would choose collaborative practice over mediation for our own divorce;
  • 59.5% felt that being both a collaborative counselor and a courtroom advocate interfere with each other;
  • 63.6% believe that they can earn a good living as a collaborative professional; and
  • 81.8% felt they must “sell” the process to prospective clients.

Additionally, after meeting with a consult who was interested in proceeding collaboratively, but unsure whether his/her spouse would also be interested:

  • 77.3% were willing to email or telephone the other spouse to discuss the collaborative approach to their divorce;
  • 63.6% were willing to meet with the other spouse, as long as their original consult (the spouse) was present, to discuss collaboration;
  • 43.2% were willing to meet with the other spouse, whether or not their original consult was present, to discuss this approach;
  • 56.8% were willing to call the spouse to discuss the process; and
  • 84.1% were willing to email the other spouse about it.

This data tells us that many collaborative professionals are uncomfortable “closing the deal,” even when their own client prefers to proceed collaboratively. Attorneys generally do not feel comfortable meeting with the other spouse if their prospective client is not also present. And they prefer electronic/telephonic communication over face-to-face. Why is that?

Well, maybe for privilege reasons? But a process consult does not violate privilege.

What Is A Process Consult?

My free process consults have a single purpose, to explain, either to the couple together or individually, their options for how to get divorced. I treat it as I would a class in family law procedure. I start simply with the default and do-it-yourself divorces. Then I talk about one spouse retaining counsel for drafting purposes only. I explain cooperative negotiations between parties with or without attorneys. I explain mediation. Finally, we talk about collaborative practice and the teamwork involved in that process. I never address what the law might be or the facts of the couple’s lives, so privilege is never a concern. I simply explain the process choices.

I don’t “push” folks to choose collaboration, although I do push them to opt for any process other than litigation. I’ve seen what litigation does to families.

I myself often discuss divorce process options with unrepresented spouses, and frequently, my explanation is the reason why a couple proceeds collaboratively. Why? Three reasons I can think of with no sweat:

  • When both spouses attend the meeting, they both hear the same answers. And they can discuss their concerns together right there, in the room. Having already explained that I won’t discuss their particulars, I’ve never had anyone disrespect me by trying to initiate such a discussion.
  • I’ve eliminated the fear of the “Nameless Lawyer,” me! The other spouse has now met me, and my staff, and can see that I’m a nice person, a human being, not a monster out to destroy her family.
  • I make it easy to get underway. I provide the non-client with contact info for at least three lawyers, as well as the two Tampa practice groups, where they can find even more, if they like.

I did a process consult on the phone yesterday. It was uncomfortable. I knew that the wife was the instigator and that they were already separated. On the phone, without benefit of body language, it was difficult to “read the room.”

Wife and I proceeded to have the conversation. Husband said next to nothing. I asked him several gentle, carefully non-intrusive questions as we went along, mostly about whether he had questions, and received monosyllabic responses. I peppered my “lecture” with upbeat adjectives, adverbs, and even phrases that carry positive meaning, like “kinder,” “gentler,” “learning,” “really hearing,” “truly listening,” “calm,” “at your own pace,” “client control,” “you make the decisions,” “faster,” “less expensive,” and “confidential.”

At the end of the phone call, I wasn’t sure I had reached him. Still, I suggested that I had conveyed a lot of information and that I would send them copies of my posters to help them absorb it. I reiterated that they should feel free to email me any process questions they might have.

When I concluded, the husband finally responded, “I need some time to think.” He hesitated, “But I really want to thank you for your time and your commitment to making the world a better place. You’re doing God’s work and I really admire that.”

Wow!

In person or on Zoom, I use my posters to clarify concepts that can be confusing to a layperson under stress, especially if that person is a visual learner. (To fully understand information, 65% of us don’t just need to hear it; we need to see it.) Visuals are powerful tools to move and convince, to sell ideas, to help empathy grow and understanding blossom, and to aid the education process. My Courtless Divorces Processes poster, combined with the Costs poster, aids the couple in choosing the process that is right for them, and also helps to manage their financial expectations.

Can You Earn A Good Living Collaborating?

Many of us feel that we cannot earn a good living practicing collaboratively. But we can! To run a successful collaborative practice, you must market the results that your services provide. I’ve spent years perfecting my marketing strategy, and now, I offer it to my colleagues in a toolkit. The Changing the Way the World Gets Divorced Toolkit is guaranteed to turn you into a Collaborative Champion in just one year if you walk The Weekly Steps contained in it. If you do not earn the cost of it back, I guarantee I’ll give you your money back instead!

I also offer a two-day marketing workshop, posters, books, forms, samples, and everything else that you need to become a marketing master of the collaborative craft.

If you, too, want to become a Champion, visit www.JorynJenkins.com, and see how I can help.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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