It’s true, Collaborative Law—Collaborative Divorce in particular—can save clients money, but that doesn’t mean it’s free. If someone is seeking the assistance of a Collaborative professional, it’s likely that they are already in a distressed situation that has potential to become more stressful, due to the financial costs of the process. Even for many professional team members, the topic of fees is uncomfortable. The matter of fees can be difficult to bring up and can be tangled up in a whole host of personal, cultural and emotional perspectives.
We all understand these factors, so the best way to reduce the added potential stress is by being proactive about fees and fee policies. This will eliminate confusion and tension down the line:
- Communicate fees and policies up front. Once the collaborative professional has an idea of the potential case he/she will be working on, he/she should communicate the fees, in writing, along with relevant policies, to the potential client. The potential client should be given the opportunity to ask questions before entering into a collaborative fee agreement or engagement contract. The contract should describe exactly what they will be charged for.
- Have a comprehensive understanding of the team’s fees and policies. While each team member is operating as an individual in regards to fees, it is of utmost importance that each team member understands how the other members handle fees, so that the clients benefit from a team who understands the total financial output and can thereby see the context for certain decisions i.e. locations of meetings, communication techniques, etc.
- Develop a team policy for missed meetings. Attorneys are likely to not charge for meetings that are missed by clients, but mental health professionals are. This may cause a great deal of confusion between team members, as well as, with clients. Take the time to discuss this among the team, settle on a policy (even if part of the team will charge and part of it won’t) then communicate that to the clients—with an explanation of why. The key is to have the policy in place and clearly state it at the beginning of the process. Needless to say, if a meeting is cancelled or missed by a professional, the client should not be charged.
- Discuss financial considerations as they arise. Of course, team members can be up front about fees and policies and still encounter financial challenges that simply can’t be anticipated. Some couples may find that it is taking some time to access their source of money for this process. This is when it is up to the Collaborative professionals, as a team, to decide how to proceed with the couple—whether by putting the process on hold or “floating” the clients until the money comes through. This is the best way to maintain focus on the ultimate outcome and also prevent one professional from becoming compromised while others are guaranteed payment of fees.
- Be honest. While it is important for the team to work together to mitigate financial challenges throughout the process that does not mean that any team member should feel pressured to lower his or her fee or accept delayed payment on good faith. The team should be honest about what each member is comfortable with, because if a member is not, it could ultimately compromise the Collaborative process.
If professional collaborative law team members keep these tips in mind and apply them habitually, they might find that they become far more comfortable with financial discussions, and that will only benefit everyone.