From Problem Solving to Empowerment

By Henry Yampolsky, July 21,2016.

Many lawyers pride themselves on being good problem solvers: they are able to quickly identify what they perceive is the problem and then use their training, experience and expertise to offer a “ready-made” solution. Except, that this approach does not always work when lawyers are serving families, especially families going through a difficult transition, such as divorce. You see, what lawyers may perceive as the problem, may not be the problems at all. Also, families come in many varieties – a “ready-made” solution that has worked for one family might not work for the other.

Moreover, in problem-solving the focus is on the lawyer. She is the star of the show – the star detective, tasked with figuring out what the problem is; the mastermind expected to come up with the strategy to address the problem; and the gladiator who goes for the final kill.

At best, in the problem-solving paradigm of litigation the client plays a supporting role. They have limited say on the outcome and virtually no involvement in the process of getting the outcome. Even the client’s appearances at depositions and hearings offer little real opportunity for the client to be heard. Mostly, the client feels disconnected from their own case and from the formalistic and at times dehumanizing legal process which swallows it. Thus, even if at the end of the case the client get’s what they wanted, there is rarely a sense of closure. And, because the cost of getting the result is steep, even a win can feel like a draining loss.

Unlike litigators, collaborative lawyers do not focus on problem-solving. Rather, collaborative lawyers strive to empower their clients to make their own decisions (and find solutions to any problems that might be there). Because, especially when it comes to family matters, it is the clients and not the lawyers who are the true experts.   Empowerment begins with the emphasis on listening and understanding (before taking action) inherent in the collaborative process. Thus, a coach, a neutral professional skilled in the art of active listening, is an integral part of the collaborative process. That professional is also there to remind lawyers not to fall back into old litigation habits. Empowerment within the collaborative process is about listening, understanding, asking open ended questions and exploring the best possible solutions and outcomes. Empowering is the collaborative paradigm. And, it is not about the lawyers. It is about You, the client.

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