Laura Heaton explains her role as a barrister in the collaborative process
Most people assume that barristers are focused on getting people into court as quickly as possible to fight things out. The public perception of ‘counsel’ tends to have been fixed around ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, while for most of us – particularly in the field of family law – the job is rather different. Like Rumpole and his ilk we very much want to get the right results for our clients, but in family circumstances it is often the case that the right result is more easily achieved by methods other than litigation. It was this fact that led me to train as a collaborative lawyer, and why it remains part of my practice that I very much enjoy.
Some barristers, myself included, can be the initial point of contact for a client– this is called ‘direct access’, where those of us who are specially trained can deal direct with a client rather than needing to work through a solicitor. This means that in a collaborative case, you can choose whether you would like a collaborative solicitor or a direct access collaborative counsel to work with you; we will both perform essentially the same role. Although it is not always the case, barristers tend to be more specialised in their practices than family law solicitors are, so if your circumstances are very specific – for example, needing to reorganize a family trust or an international business – you may prefer to work with a specialist in one of these areas.
The other way that barristers work in the collaborative process is to provide a neutral, technical pair of eyes either on particular parts of the discussions or in general. This can be suggested when highly complex areas come to the fore, or perhaps when the two of you have ‘hit a wall’ in the negotiations and it feels like there is nowhere left to go to find an agreement. Bringing in a new dimension at that point may be the best way of finding a different viewpoint, which might just lead to an unexpected solution. It can be done by inviting an opinion on paper, or by bringing me in to a meeting, in person, or by Skype or phone.
Family law barristers predominantly care about doing a good job for their client whether that is using traditional methods or something more bespoke like the collaborative process. We understand that divorce is about much more than money, and that family relationships are long-term ones, easily fragmented by ill-chosen words and unneccesary aggression. I particularly support people who would rather go through the process with dignity, civility and an eye to the future, and that’s why I feel so passionate about my role in the collaborative process.