The Art of “Shadowing” in Collaborative Law

During a recent training of Collaborative professionals, Melinda Eitzen, an attorney from Texas who has practiced Collaborative Law since 2001, suggested that we consider the concept of “shadowing” for new Collaborative professionals. Melinda graciously shared her insights on the potential of shadowing and how it works.


The concept of shadowing is the same in Collaborative Law as it is in most other professions, in that someone who is relatively new to the approach (or business) observes others who are more practiced, in order to gain knowledge and experience.

Who Should Shadow?

If a lawyer, mental health professional (MHP) or financial professional (FP) is recently certified in Collaborative practice, shadowing is an ideal next step, because as Melinda says,

“There is nothing like seeing it in action to help someone really learn and gain experience.”

But that doesn’t mean that someone who isn’t certified in Collaborative Law can’t shadow. In some cases, it’s the best way for professionals to decide if the approach is for them, or not. Of course, the team, as well as the clients, must be willing to let someone shadow their process and that individual would be included in and bound by the confidentiality provisions of the Participation Agreement.

Approaches to Shadowing

Some Collaborative professionals are adamant that the individual who is shadowing sits as a “potted plant,” meaning, they simply observe the meetings and do not interact with members of the team or the clients during meetings (although, some are asked to take the minutes). While that’s a common approach, it’s not a standard. An individual who is shadowing may be welcomed into the dialogue, if the team and clients are amenable.

Depending on what role the shadowing professional fills, they will likely attend all of the team meetings. Additionally, if the “shadower” is a neutral professional (like an MHP or FP), it’s likely that they will shadow the offline meetings with that professional. As a lawyer, it’s a little more challenging to shadow the offline meetings because of the confidential nature of them, but again, it depends on the preference of the team member and their client. Regardless, a shadower should participate in the debrief discussions, which provide a natural forum for questions and clarifications.

The Benefits

For new Collaborative professionals, the obvious benefit of shadowing is the opportunity to learn, but it’s also about credibility:

  •  If you shadow a team that is held in high regard, you will likely be viewed as a Collaborative professional who has been well taught.
  • Shadowing also demonstrates your dedication to the approach and helps other Collaborative professionals have more confidence in you; hence they will be more inclined to suggest you for Collaborative cases and be more fully comfortable working with you in a future Collaborative case.

There are also benefits for seasoned Collaborative professionals:

  • Mentoring provides an opportunity for you to hone and improve your own skills.
  • Inviting professionals to shadow helps you to expand the community of Collaborative practice, in a deliberate way.

Two Tips for Professionals Who Want to Shadow

  • Identify several Collaborative professionals you’d willingly shadow and take them to lunch. It’s not always easy to get someone to let you shadow; it takes time for a case to come along and the clients must be willing. So it’s important to demonstrate your interest in person and explore several options.
  • Be prepared to alter your schedule to fit a case, when it comes along. You have to be willing and able to commit fully to the case in order for the experience to bear the best fruit.