I have been twisting and turning in my practice as a lawyer for a long time. At first it was a squirm. A discomfort that I couldn’t quite identify and yet couldn’t seem to resolve. Then as the years went by, I started looking for work that lessened the squirming. I found mediation. I found child representation. And I squirmed less. I was feeling aligned. And yet.
In time, the squirming resumed. I saw mediations where the parties remained the secondary players, the lawyers the primary players. I saw mediations where chair people simply did a reporting of “what do you want” and “what do you want”. Ticks, crosses, looking for the half-way points. No real questions. No real listening. I was a child representative, and then started seeing the same family back, 2 or 3 or 5 years later. Were we really helping them? The squirming came back, intensified.
Then collaborative practice came across my path. It is nearly 2 years ago now that I first had conversations about this practice, and lost my footing in the unknown. It is a conversation that I continue. It calls to the still, non-squirming part of me. It allows people in dispute (for me, separating families) to find their own path forward, using professionals of all persuasions to aid them on their path to resolution. Not rescuing. Not directing. Walking beside them. Welcoming other professionals to the conversation. Refusing to include Court as an option.
But here’s the catch. This process requires trust. Trust between the parties. Trust between the professionals. And that piece, my friends, is working out to be so much harder than I first thought. Although in my local region, our legal professionals are collegiate, polite, and have an exceedingly good rapport, it is within the boundaries of a practice style that we are all used to. Collaborative practice really requires us to take it to another level. A level that we haven’t tried yet and is a bit exciting, a bit awesome and a bit scary.
The training has happened. The conversations began. More training happened. The conversations continue. And yet, we’re not really doing it. Certainly some shifts have happened for me, and for some of my colleagues, but “collaborative law” work is not underway. I was becoming concerned about the “and yet we’re not really doing it”.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with some wonderful colleagues for another conversation about the possibilities. I had a lot of “and yet we’re not doing it” inside of me when I arrived. My friends showed me another “and yet”. The practice of collaborative law may take a long time to be underway in our region, and yet even movement in the direction of our hopes is meaningful.
As we were talking, a tiny feather arrived. It floated in on the breeze, tipping this way and that, in slow motion like the plastic bag in American Beauty or the feather in Forrest Gump, before landing on our table. For me, that little feather was a symbol of new hope, of tender beginnings and a reminder that things will change.
I will follow the feather, meander where these conversations and thoughts and learnings lead me, trusting that I am already in precisely the right place at the right time, adding value to my life and the lives of those around me, even though I’m not ‘there’ yet.
I will keep looking, twisting and turning, slowly and curiously, doing my best to leave the squirm behind me.
Have you found a symbol lately that can help you to leave something behind?