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Why Pro Bono Collaborative Divorce Services?

By Joryn Jenkins

I have always been a trial lawyer.  (Well, since law school anyway!)  And I am, among other things, a family lawyer.  So, in the old days, I offered free divorces because it was an easy way for me to give back.  But after I spent a couple of years volunteering like this, I became dis-enamored with the concept.  Why?  Well, it turns out that, when your lawyer is free, and your spouse represents himself because he is too poor to afford the luxury of a lawyer, that leaves YOU BOTH free to fight over every little thing, including the broken dishwasher!  So I told our local non-profit legal services organization that I only wanted them to send me bankruptcies going forward.

A few years ago, when our local collaborative practice (CP) groups became rejuvenated (after a 10-year-or-so hiatus), it occurred to me that pro bono collaborative divorce might be an entirely different animal. Not only would our group’s professionals be able to give back to the community by offering free services to qualified low-income applicants, but, equally importantly, we would accrue practical experience in CP (making it that much easier to sell our collaborative services to paying clients), and, even better, we could garner media attention for the concept, which otherwise accrues very little publicity, because one of CP’s trademarks (and selling points) is that it is confidential!

Consider this: every so often, one hears of a celebrity divorce.  The trial lawyer files the petition and the media descends like a flock of Alfred Hitchcock’s BIRDS, picking through the court pleadings for whatever salacious information they can find.  The media spotlight focuses on the movie star, the corporate executive, the religious icon, the heir of fortune, right up until the moment that she and her spouse opt for a collaborative resolution to their divorce, when one suddenly hears nothing at all anymore.  Because CP is private!

If a required component of our pro bono program was that, in exchange for free services, the couple allows us to publicize that they have resolved their differences collaboratively, that helps tremendously to spread the word!

My pro bono committee adopted three goals: 1) to offer pro bono services to the community; 2) to afford already trained professionals the opportunity to engage in a collaborative case; and 3) to focus media attention on the CP process.

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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