It is easy in today’s political and cultural environment to feel overwhelmed and completely helpless to affect any change. Conflict abounds. In a society focused on retributive justice, where traditional litigation approaches are the norm, advocating options for conflict resolution that fall on the alternative dispute resolution spectrum can often feel counter cultural. At times and among certain audiences, suggesting the collaborative law process is perceived as radical. Notwithstanding the inordinate amount of time, energy and effort that John Sarratt and the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Civil Collaborative Law Association (NCCCLA) have spent educating about and advocating for the use of the collaborative law approach in any civil dispute, I am still often on the receiving end of blank stares, quizzical looks, and frowns when I discuss the collaborative law process with other lawyers and clients. When this happens, it is easy to become discouraged, and the lawyerly ability to over analyze kicks into high gear. I worry that other litigators and even clients will perceive me as weak when I suggest alternative dispute resolution options rather than traditional litigation. At times, I wonder whether my zeal for conflict resolution has come on too strong. Then I remember those magical moments that fuel my passion for ADR …
The time when a tearful client thanked me with all of her heart for truly hearing her when she has felt silenced and overlooked for years;
The palpable dissipation of tension in joint opening session at mediation when one party genuinely apologized to another, and that party genuinely accepted the apology; and
The hope that filled the room when opposite parties, who had been entrenched in litigation for months, embraced each other during mediation.
We, as collaborative lawyers and mediators, have the distinct privilege and responsibility to pave the way toward finding common ground, and recognizing our shared humanity. I urge you to stay the course. In fact, I encourage you to pick up speed, because offering parties alternative dispute resolution options, including this “crazy notion” that the civil collaborative law process will become mainstream, is working. It is making a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, and corporations, and that is work worth doing.
Colleen L. Byers is a collaborative lawyer and certified mediator at Bell, Davis & Pitt. Her legal practice includes business and commercial litigation, professional liability matters, estate lawsuits, will caveats, trust disputes, guardianship proceedings, power of attorney abuse matters, and fiduciary litigation. Colleen is trained in the Civil Collaborative Law process and is certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission to mediate Superior Court cases as well as matters before the Clerk of Court. Colleen enjoys contributing to Bell, Davis & Pitt’s Mediation and Arbitration Blog.