Originally published at Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 25, p. 347, 2010 – republished with permission
Collaborative Law (CL) is an innovative dispute resolution process that offers significant benefits but also poses significant non-obvious risks. This Article provides a systematic analysis of these possible risks as identified in books written by CL experts, CL practice group websites, social science research, and bar association ethics opinions.
In CL, the lawyers and clients sign a “participation agreement” promising to use an interest-based approach to negotiation and fully disclose all relevant information. A key element of CL is the “disqualification agreement” signed by parties (and sometimes by attorneys) which provides that both CL lawyers would be disqualified from representing the clients if the parties engage in contested litigation. CL is designed to encourage parties to stay in the process which can be good, though sometimes parties feel stuck there, having invested thousands of dollars and being at risk of losing their lawyer if the process terminates.
Ethical rules require lawyers to inform participants about the risks of the process and screen cases for appropriateness under Rules 1.2 and 1.7 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Empirical studies raise concerns about CL lawyers’ compliance with these duties. This article is intended to help prepare CL lawyers and practice groups so that they can better educate potential clients and comply with their obligations to screen cases and help clients make informed decisions about use of CL. It is also intended to help policymakers in promulgating and applying relevant rules. Bar association ethics committees may find this analysis useful in writing ethics opinions and adjudicating possible complaints against CL lawyers. Similarly, courts may find this useful in adjudicating possible malpractice complaints.
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