As the publisher of Divorce Magazine and Family Lawyer Magazine, over the past 16 years I have worked with many top professionals in all areas relating to divorce: legal, mediation, financial, mental health etc. With the launch of our new website, eNewsletter and magazine – Family Lawyer Magazine, I decided to do a series of interviews with those “top notch” professionals in order to gather and share their insights, opinions, and to learn a little about what makes them tick with family lawyers across North America.
One of the professionals who clearly stands out as tops in their field is Dr. Barbara Landau. I invited Barbara to speak with me not only because she is tops in her field, but because she has made significant contributions to the legal, mediation, and psychology fields, and also because she has devoted significant effort to peace in the Middle East.
I have, over time, gotten to know Barbara and it’s clear to me that she’s committed to making a difference not just for her divorcing people and other clients she works with through her mediation practice but I also know she is committed to making a difference on the planet through her peace work in the Middle East. I invited Barbara to talk with me about her work, her life and her passions.
Here’s a bit of background information about Barbara: Dr. Barbara Landau is president of Cooperative Solutions. She is a psychologist, a lawyer, a mediator and a trainer, as well as an author. She has received many awards including: the lifetime title of Fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association was awarded to her for outstanding contribution to the field of psychology. In 2002, she received the Award for Excellence in Dispute Resolution, given to her by the Ontario Bar Association. In 2003 she received the Distinguished Mediator Award from the Association for Conflict Resolution. She received the long-term achievement award FAMMA from Family Mediation Canada in 2004. Barbara is a former member of the ADR section of the Ontario Bar Association, Vice President of the ADR Institute of Ontario and former board member. In 2011 she was the recipient of ADR Institute of Canada’s Regional McGowan Award for contributions to the field of ADR. Barbara is a former President of the Ontario Association for Family Mediation, Executive Board Member of the Academy of Family Mediators (now ACR), and Director of the Psychology Foundation of Canada, chairing the “In place of Violence” Committee.
Barbara is like the EverReady Bunny except with more energy. As you’ll see in the interview that follows my role was pretty simple – all I had to do was let Barbara talk and I sat back in amazement about who she is, what she’s accomplished and just breathe in her enthusiasm for life and making a difference.
Dan: I’m winded from just going through your list of achievements and acknowledgements.
Barbara: Yes, I would be winded too. That’s quite a list. I wonder who that person is?
Dan: I know you’ve been too busy to actually pay much attention to it. Why don’t you give us a brief history of how your practice evolved and where you’re at today?
Barbara: Well I think what’s maybe interesting to people and particularly relevant to women is that we shouldn’t take these professional opportunities for women for granted today. Initially when I was in high school I couldn’t decide between becoming a lawyer or a psychologist. We’re talking about 1959-60. My first thought was I was going to be a lawyer and the principal of my school asked me to introduce the Dean of Osgoode Hall [The Law Society of Upper Canada, Court of Appeal for Ontario, and the Superior Court of Justice] to the student body. When I interviewed him I told him that I planned to apply to law school. He was very surprised and said “If you do apply, you would be the only woman.” I replied “In that case, I’m going to have a lot of fun.” Then he said “Even if we accepted you, nobody would hire you – except possibly to make coffee in the backroom.”
Dan: I bet that didn’t stop you, I know you like a challenge!
Barbara: I like a challenge but at that point I decided I knew how to make coffee so I switched gears and decided I’d apply to psychology. And so in 3rd year I went into the dean’s office at the University of Toronto Psychology Department along with the four A’s that I had collected at that point. I thought that the Dean was going to give me a hug and great encouragement. His response was “We don’t want to waste a position on a woman who will just have babies and not work.” When he saw how disappointed I was, he said “If you were a man we would take you right away. In fact your marks are good enough that we can’t reject you outright. So if we can’t find a suitable male we will give you a call.” In fact they did give me a call on the day school began. At that point York University had decided to start their first graduate program in psychology, lucky for me, and they had accepted me. And just to add a positive note – the same man who discouraged me from applying to psychology later gave me the title of “Fellow of the Canadian Psychological Association,” an appointment which showed tremendous growth in him.
Barbara: So to continue with my career development, I managed to nicely combine my interest in law and psychology by working mostly with adolescents who were in trouble with the law.
First, I was the Chief Psychologist at Scarborough General Hospital. And then I worked at the Clarke Institute and became the Chief Psychologist at the Family Court Clinic, which was a great way of combining my interests. I followed that up by being the first non-medical Chief of Service of “The Unit for the Untreatable Adolescent,” at what was then Queen Street Mental Health Centre, now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). When I arrived, it was a locked unit for the most difficult adolescents in Ontario with the expectation they might stay indefinitely. I changed the unit to a short stay and day treatment program. Seeing children locked up indefinitely in a mental hospital, in addition to my previous work at the Family Court Clinic, really led me back to an interest in law. Also, ten years after I graduated, I was appointed to the first Ontario Advisory Council on the Status of Women and I had a wonderful opportunity to specialize in reform of family law and criminal law for women. I discovered that now 40 percent of the law school classes were women, and assumed they couldn’t all be making coffee. So I applied and went to law school. So that’s the long trip.
Dan: Fortunately the world has changed, right?
Barbara: Yes and you know, what I would hope is that the same Dean who discouraged me would look back and say “Maybe they didn’t waste the position giving it to a woman.”
Dan: Right. I’m sure he would, certainly based on your history. So then after you finished law school, what happened to your career then?
Barbara: I think I’d like to jump back a little bit before I go into what happened after law school, because I think my motivation for going to law school was quite different than it had been initially. When I was the Chief Psychologist at the Family Court Clinic, I was dismayed with the way family law cases were handled in the court. I thought it was so shortsighted to pit parents against each other, writing horrible affidavits, lining up friends and extended family members for an ugly mudslinging battle. In my view, it destroyed all chances of mutual respect or parental cooperation. It was really destructive for kids. So as the Chief Psychologist at the Family Court, I created what I called “problem solving conferences,” I invited both parents to meet with me, which the lawyers thought was crazy. They were always looking to hire mental health professionals to testify on one side – either the mother’s or the father’s, but I brought both parents together. If it was a child protection matter, I brought in the Children’s Aid Society; if it was a delinquency matter, I brought in the probation officer. And we met together and worked out a parenting plan that addressed everybody’s concerns. Then my job was made very easy, I would just write a report to the judge saying, ”These are the issues, these are the options we considered, this is what everybody has agreed to, and your Honour, it’s working fine.” The result was the cases concluded on consent.
Dan: These were the most challenging cases that you could possibly come up against, weren’t they?
Barbara: Yes, they were very challenging cases and I think had they been handled in a typical way it would certainly have been much more difficult to come to a resolution. What we find with litigation is when somebody isn’t happy with the judge’s decision, which is a win-lose kind of result, then they appeal or they don’t follow it. For example, at that time, 85 percent of support payors, usually men, were not paying their support awards. And they weren’t paying their support awards because it had been imposed on them. What I found was when they reached a consent agreement to pay a support award, they would pay it, and when they were told to pay it, they didn’t. So when I applied to law school, I wrote my application saying that I was coming to law school hoping to change the legal system. I was thankfully a little bit naive. I wanted to change the way family law cases were handled, but also any cases where there were on-going relationships. I thought saying horrible things about the other person and pitting yourself against them was not a good recipe for maintaining a constructive relationship. And to the credit of both the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School, they both accepted me. So I went to both of them.
Dan: So when you started your law practice did you just do mediation?
Barbara: I did practice as a conventional family law lawyer but always offered my services as a mediator as an alternative. When I was at the Family Court Clinic, I didn’t know that what I was doing was called “mediation.” I called it “problem-solving conferences.” The year before I went to law school I learned that there was something in California called “conciliation,” and then later “mediation.” I got very excited about it – an ‘aha’ moment – so, that’s what I’ve been doing!
Dan: How did you explain this new thing, “mediation” to a potential client?
Barbara: I found I had a very good way of convincing an increasing number of my clients to choose mediation, even when they had never heard the word before. I would tell them about mediation – where both parties worked out their own resolution with the help of an impartial third party. I then told clients that my hourly rate as a mediator was lower than my hourly rate as a lawyer. And not only that, the two of them would share my hourly rate if they picked the mediator category rather than the lawyer. So after 15 years, when mediation was much better known, I had worked my way out of the practice of law and into a total mediation practice.
Dan: I know you’re very involved with the mediation movement in Canada, can you talk a little bit about how that evolved over the years?
Barbara: Yes! Oh that was so exciting. Starting when I was in law school, there were a few of us who met regularly to talk about this new “mediation” process. The minute I got out of law school I joined Howard Irving, Molly Knowles, John Goodwin and a handful of others, to create the Ontario Association for Family Mediation. We were up and running in ’82, which is when I was called to the bar and I became one of the early presidents of OAFM. During the time that I was president, it was a very active time. We created membership criteria, a code of conduct and standards for training. In 1983 I began teaching a Family Mediation course.
To read part 2 click here.