If you’re considering adding some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to your family law practice, but want to learn more about it first, you may want to read this article from start to finish.
By Jenna Adams, Certified Divorce Coach
In recent times, policies favoring private judging and the increasing caseload of pending cases in family courts have encouraged legal professionals and the general public to explore Alternative Dispute Resolution in the form of mediation, collaboration, and arbitration (and, in some areas, conciliation, neutral evaluation) procedures to resolve family disputes.
However, is ADR an opportunity that legal professionals should explore or view as a threat? This article reviews the pros and cons of ADR in the practice of family law.
Advantages of ADR in Family Law
1. ADR offers a Huge Market Opportunity for Family Lawyers
Since ADRs involving arbitration and mediation are private, cheaper, more flexible, and quicker than court proceedings, an increasing number of individuals prefer resolving disputes through an experienced arbitration or mediation attorney.
Knowing family law like the back of your hand and honing your collaborative, arbitration, and mediation skills can give you an advantage over other legal professionals.
Furthermore, since ADR is an inexpensive process when compared with protracted litigation, middle-income couples will often opt for it, opening up a field of small-claims cases that is highly suited for junior lawyers.
Since the demand for ADR is rising, lawyers should evolve and adapt their skills to suit their clients’ needs and accomplish their career goals.
2. ADR is Good for Your or Your Law Firm’s Reputation
Expanding your services to offer a full range of dispute resolution processes – from collaborative divorce to litigation and everything in between – will earn you and your law firm a good reputation and clientele in the industry.
Also, ADR processes encourage lawyers to develop problem-solving skills not generally taught in law schools – including attentive listening, being empathetic with the client, and thinking creatively. Proper use of these skills creates an environment of trust between client and lawyer, which greatly increases their chances of obtaining referral business.
3. You are in Charge
When conducting an ADR session, you are the temporary judge who listens to arguments and assesses the evidence produced by both parties and makes decisions based on the law. Your clients trust you for your technical knowledge of the nitty-gritty of their case.
By suggesting your clients opt for ADR, a lawyer enriches his/her legal expertise by resolving family disputes, namely allocation of debts and assets, spousal and child support, child custody, valuation of a family-owned business, marriage dissolution, capacity issues, and termination of parental rights, among others.
Moreover, you do not have to work according to the court protocols, schedules, and paperwork. If your clients choose you as their arbitrator or mediator, you can work with them to design how the ADR will be conducted and whether or not your decisions will be binding.
4. ADR Can Save You Time and Effort
Family law disputes can be convoluted and stressful. ADR is a consensual process; thus, as a family lawyer, you save time and effort because both the parties agree to negotiate, arbitrate, or mediate.
This means fewer legal hassles, emotional costs, stress due to the courtroom drama, and delays in waiting for the court’s decision compared to the traditional litigation process.
Due to the above-mentioned advantages, an increasing number of law schools in the U.S. and Canada are offering ADR courses in the standard family law curriculum. Most of these law schools offer ADR certification courses for novice and established lawyers. For example, if you are an experienced family law attorney in Wheaton, Illinois you can register for ADR programs offered by the law schools in your neighborhood.
Disadvantages of ADR in Family Law
However, the points in favor of ADR in family law also contribute to its disadvantages. Let’s take a look at them.
1. Modest Financial Remuneration
Though expertise in ADR is an excellent addition to a lawyer’s skill set, it is not massively remunerative when compared to court litigation processes.
Moreover, parties are not compelled to continue negotiations or mediation. If the disputants are dissatisfied with the progress of the ADR, they can terminate the process, which can be frustrating when you have made every effort to help them reach an agreement.
2. Developing ADR Skills Takes Time
Learning and applying ADR skills successfully in different situations takes time. You may have to try various strategies to improve your negotiation, collaboration, mediation, and arbitration skills.
Further, in ADR, one size doesn’t fit all. For instance, arbitration clauses can be quite tricky to manage – and clauses custom-made for one client cannot be used for another.
Thus, when offering ADR, a lawyer may have to experiment with various strategies – some more successful than others.
3. Unhappy Clientele
Though ADR is usually faster and cheaper than court proceedings, if your divorcing clients haves chosen binding arbitration, your decision may be a bitter pill to swallow if it is fundamentally unfair, biased, or doesn’t suit the couple’s and/or their family’s needs.
For instance, a divorcing couple may not be satisfied with the financial consequences and child custody arrangements after the arbitration process is complete. Their inability to contest the judgment may frustrate the disputing parties.
Moreover, ADR lacks public scrutiny, which may lead clients to question the fairness of the process and charge the lawyer of being biased or violating public policies. Such unhappy clients are bad news for the lawyer and their law firm’s reputation.
Weighing the pros and cons of ADR in family disputes can help you know what you are getting into when being trained in and eventually using your collaborative, arbitration, and mediation skills. However, if you decide to pursue some form of ADR, you should be able to help your clients arrive at a more amicable outcome – costing less time and money than traditional litigation – to their family law disputes.
Jenna Adams is a certified divorce coach by profession. She is associated with Peskind Law Firm, an experienced family law attorney in Wheaton, IL offering family and divorce law services to the folks of Illinois. She specializes in everything when things come to divorce and beyond that. She helps people with setting up post-divorce goals to bring about improvements in their overall life.
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