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Lessons My Client Taught Me

By Joryn Jenkins

I was recently at a cocktail party when I was, once again, reminded of the benefits of the collaborative dispute resolution process over a litigated divorce. I noticed Becky across the room. She was talking to a small, but captivated audience, and she seemed distressed. I was drawn to their conversation because of the expression of true pain on Becky’s face. As I approached, the well-spoken, yet apparently somewhat reticent woman described her contentious courtroom divorce.

Her description made me tear up.

“As I sat, pinned like a butterfly to the back of the witness chair, watching my lawyer battle with my husband’s lawyer, I suffered a horrifying epiphany.” She stoically stared into space, her memories plainly replaying mentally, as she explained, “I had somehow become embroiled in a sporting event of a different kind; I was just another chapter in the ongoing war in which these two attorneys had apparently been engaged for a long, long time. In that moment, I felt entirely victimized by the system, by my husband’s lawyer, and by my own lawyer.”

Unfortunately, this is not atypical of a courtroom divorce. When the same attorneys face off day after day in family court, they do develop rivalries and even animosities, trying to outperform each other. These naturally competitive folks are pitted against each other repeatedly, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. It’s easy to see why their battles on behalf of their clients may really become battles against each other. While most attorneys are ethical and intend to act in their clients’ best interests, they are only human, and it’s easy to lose sight of a client’s goals when facing off against an old opponent.

The Opposing Counsel Paradigm

There’s a reason they call each other “Opposing Counsel.”

When this happens, it is the client who loses. Her divorce is taken out of her hands and can spin out of control. Costs increase, and resolution pulls further and further out of reach.

Thankfully, though, there is now a better way. Collaborative divorce is a process in which the attorneys work together with each other, the clients, and other professionals, as needed, as a team to help the spouses reach a settlement that meets each client’s most important interests. This team dynamic allows collaborative attorneys to develop true friendships with each other, as they work together on the collaborative teams instead of against each other in the courtroom.

I only wish Becky and her husband had been informed about collaborative divorce before she got swept up in litigation. I approached her later in the evening and introduced myself as a seasoned family trial attorney who has seen the light. I then briefly explained the collaborative process and why it is I have added it to my practice so that my clients don’t experience what Becky went through.

I gave her my card and suggested that she consider utilizing the process if any post judgment issues between her and her husband arise, which they often do after a litigated divorce. I also went out of my way to ask her to refer anyone she may meet who asks her for a referral to a good divorce attorney to me. (Let no marketing opportunity pass you by!)

She smiled and said, “You’ve given me hope that I won’t have to go through litigation in the future.”

For more on how to practice collaboratively and successfully, and on how to profitably market your practice, reach out to me at Joryn@JorynJenkins.com or find me at Your Collaborative Marketing Coach, because your marketing is my marketing! And if you’d like to learn more about how to become a Collaborative Champion or a Legal Influencer, buy my toolkit or attend my training!

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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