Imagine that it's 1991. I've just graduated law school, passed the bar, and am tearing up the courtrooms like nobody's business. Divorce cases? Settled. Custody hearings? Taken care of. Business disputes? Done and done.
I'd gone into law with an absolute passion for protecting my clients. I'm an advocate right down to my bones — there's nothing I like more than being able to stand by someone who's struggling and give them the resources or the support they need. And for a long time, I thought that going to bat for them at court was the best way for me to do that.
I was great at it. I loved getting the results for my clients. And I might have kept doing it … except for this little voice in the back of my head.
The one that said, "God, it's great that those people were able to finally figure out their divorce. But isn't it terrible that they had to go through months of back and forth in court to do it?"
Or "Yikes, that was a nasty hearing. That business dispute didn't need to get that bad."
Or worst of all, "Sure, you settled that custody dispute. But those kids are going to remember how bad it was when their parents were fighting, and they felt like they had to choose between the two of them.
I couldn't shake this sense of doubt, this feeling that something was off at the core of this whole system. Over the years, it got stronger and stronger, until I finally couldn't ignore it any more.
After seeing family after family fall apart in the face of an inadequate court system, I was done.
The stress my clients were having to face by going to court just wasn't worth the outcomes they were getting anymore. I knew that there had to be a way that people could solve their disputes without all the drama and trauma, so — in a move that made all my lawyer friends shake their heads in disbelief — I quit court.
I didn't know exactly how I was going to make it work, but I knew that what I really cared about was helping my clients find solutions to their problems where everybody walked away with their dignity (and created durable, long-lasting solutions everybody could live with), and no one got caught up in a costly legal battle, and I believed that it was possible to get these results without putting my clients through the threshing machine that the legal system can be.
And it worked.
Instead of getting bogged down in months of haggling, the people and lawyers involved can feel free to talk through all their options honestly, without worrying that something they said is going to come back to bite them in court.
Their kids don't have to face the emotional rollercoaster of an ugly custody battle. Instead, their parents work things out as calmly and collaboratively as possible, and all the adults involved — lawyers included — commit to putting the unique needs of the children first.
And rather than having to fight their way clause-by-clause through an agreement that nobody really wants in the first place, clients end up with mutual solutions that meet everyone's needs and work long-term.
Collaborative conflict resolution means that my clients get what they want without the stress and anxiety of litigation, I get to advocate for them and know that they're getting what they really need, and the legal industry as a whole benefits from not being bogged down with disputes that never needed to go to court in the first place. It's the ultimate win-win.
Because ultimately, that's what conflict resolution is supposed to be about: people helping people.
That simple, but profound principle informs everything I do in my legal practice today — and it's the core of a movement towards non-violent, human-centered conflict resolution.
Want to join me?
Keep up with the movement and get free tips and resources for peaceful, effective conflict resolution on my blog!