D.C. Forum Opening Speech

by Linda Wray October 26, 2015


Who would have imagined from the struggles and vision of one soft-spoken, peace-loving man from Minnesota, 25 years ago, that we would all be here in Washington, D.C. this week! That tens of thousands of professionals around the world would be trained in furtherance of his vision. That thousands and thousands of families would be the beneficiaries of that vision.   

Most of you know the story of Stu Webb. But perhaps it is a lesser known fact that before he wrote his famous letter to Minnesota Supreme Court Justice A.M. Sandy Keith, he floated his idea for attorneys to work in a problem solving process without the ability to fall back on the courts, to members of the Minnesota Bar. His idea was soundly rejected.

Stu did not fold. Rather, he listened to his inner voice – a voice that told him there had to be a better way. And he sought another route – securing the endorsement of the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. What an audacious act at that time! 

When the endorsement came, Stu started out on a road never before traveled, calling himself a Collaborative lawyer. He invited other attorneys to join him in representing clients in a settlement-only process. At first, only a few colleagues in Minnesota signed on, and began meeting with Stu to explore the contours of this new process, using the Minnesota tradition of pot luck dinners in the home of a member, as the backdrop for their meetings.

Development of a Movement

But, Stu’s proclamation that he was a Collaborative lawyer was like fire to tinder. A desire for a better way to help families was brewing among several in Northern California. Within a year or two of the start of Stu’s journey, mental health professionals, along with a group of lawyers and financial professionals in Northern California began working on an interdisciplinary model to support spouses and families through divorce. Pauline Tesler introduced Collaborative Law to these professionals, and the interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice concept took root.

The idea of assisting people with dispute resolution in a problem-solving rather than adversarial process resonated profoundly with professionals. In both Minnesota and California, cases began to be conducted in the emerging Collaborative process. It was clear within a few short years that a movement had begun! 

A small group in California concluded that the Collaborative movement would be advanced if there was an umbrella networking organization to: 

  • share learnings and experiences;
  • explore approaches;
  • share resources; and
  • promote the process. 

The American Institute of Collaborative Professionals (AICP) emerged in the late 1990s. In May of 1999, the first AICP Networking Forum took place in Oakland, California. 100 professionals attended. In the same year, Collaborative Practice ignited in Canada.

In 2000, a meeting convened in Chicago to discuss the state of Collaborative Practice. 50 professionals attended. The AICP recognized the need to broaden its mission and become more inclusive in light of the spread of Collaborative Practice in North America. And with that, in late 2000, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals was born.

IACP’s work initially involved a few people sitting around a conference table discussing how to grow a movement and organization.

There was no IACP office.

There was no money.

There were no committees.

And yet, following the audacious lead of a quiet man, the IACP took a leap of faith in 2004-2005 and decided it was time to hire an Executive Director. Talia Katz, whom Stu, Pauline Tesler and others had Collaboratively trained in the year 2000 in Minnesota, also took a leap of faith. She gave up her law practice and came on board as Executive Director of IACP. For some time, she worked from her home in Phoenix, often at the crack of dawn so as to connect with those in other time zones.

All the while, Collaborative Practice Groups coalesced at lightning speed around the US and around the world. Collaborative Practice quickly spread to the east coast, to Texas, to the other states in the heartland of the US.

In 2003, Collaborative Practice began in England, Scotland and Ireland.

In 2004, Collaborative Practice began in Switzerland.

In 2005, Collaborative Practice blossomed in Australia.

In 2006, Collaborative Practice began in Austria, France and Bermuda.

In 2008, Collaborative Practice took root in Germany, Israel and the Netherlands.

In 2009, Collaborative Practice began in Italy.

In 2012, Collaborative Practice began in New Zealand.

In 2013, Collaborative Practice spread to Hong Kong, Singapore and Spain.

A few professionals in Texas started exploring Collaborative Practice in areas other than family law, in 2004, under the name of the Texas Collaborative Law Council, which in 2009 became the Global Collaborative Law Council. Professionals around the world have come together within Global Collaborative Law Council, the Collaborative Law Committee of the ABA Dispute Resolution Section, as well as IACP to seek to find ways to use the problem-solving Collaborative Practice process in disputes within the healthcare industry, employment, probate, construction and trusts and estates.

There was no blueprint at the outset for how local groups were to organize.

  • What corporate structure was appropriate?
  • What committees should be formed?
  • What were appropriate requirements for membership?
  • How was a group to raise money and assure financial accountability?

There also was no blue print for training professionals in Collaborative Practice so as to facilitate the growth of the movement and excellence in practice. And yet, that in no way dampened the movement! 


Nor did the enormously difficult issues this community faced over the past 25 years slow the movement down. We have tackled issues that have tested our resolve, our Collaborative spirit, and our skills at peacemaking.

Starting with the struggles from within the legal profession – the view by many lawyers, and some law professors that it was unethical for an attorney to limit the scope of his/her representation to an out-of-court process. Early on, law review articles expounded on this issue, sometimes quite unfavorably. Collaboratively trained lawyers and litigating lawyers discussed, wrote about and all too often debated this issue.

Many of us have struggled with political systems. In the US, many Collaborative communities sought to enact legislation or promulgate court rules, regarding Collaborative Practice, and encountered obstacle after obstacle because of the fear of change among lawyers, the judiciary’s fear of losing control over regulating lawyers, and the Domestic Violence community’s fear that victims of DV will not be adequately protected.  

We have also had struggles within our community. As part of the growth of Collaborative Practice, we as an international community, have grappled with defining the roles of attorneys, mental health professionals and financial professionals in a Collaborative case, compared to these professionals’ traditional roles. Twenty-five years ago, parenting matters and financial matters were the province of attorneys and the courts. Many, many professionals have spent countless unpaid hours exploring, articulating and sharing within communities and with the world at large on listserves and through publications, the contours of the roles of each of the professionals. Certainly some of these discussions have tested our resolve to hang together as a community.

Twenty-five years after Stu started down the road never before traveled, we have made huge strides in addressing these issues. 

The ethics of Collaborative Practice is no longer in question. Many Collaborative professionals, impassioned with a belief in the value of Collaborative Practice, educated their Ethics Boards and requested ethical opinions. The Ethics Boards in several states here in the US commented on the ethics of Collaborative Practice - refreshingly favorably - until one state found that lawyers’ practice of signing a participation agreement was unethical, raising the pitch of the international discourse over this issue. In 2007, the IACP spoke out in a White Paper. Shortly thereafter, the American Bar Association Ethics Committee weighed in and squarely refuted the one negative ethics opinion. There has been little questioning of the ethics of Collaborative Practice since then.

Collaborative Practice has been codified in the laws of many jurisdictions. Because of the countless hours many of you and many others have devoted to lobbying legislators and educating our esteemed colleagues practicing traditional law, several states and provinces moved forward to enact legislation and court rules to facilitate the use of Collaborative Practice. In 2004, one man in Texas, Harry Tindall, a Uniform Law Commissioner with a deep belief in the value of Collaborative Practice and the benefits of increasing its use, worked at first alone, to bring about a Uniform Collaborative Law Act. After several years of effort, the Uniform Law Commission in the US approved the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, which in 2010 became the Uniform Collaborative Law Act/Uniform Collaborative Law Rules.

The enormous benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to dispute resolution are no longer in question. With a focus on what clients, and their families and children need in family law, we reapportioned the tasks among various professionals, to better serve clients. Today, it is well accepted that licensed mental health professionals, trained in family systems, individual and family life cycles, and child development, among other areas, are best suited to work with parents on parenting matters, communication between spouses, and more generally on emotional dynamics that impact the ability of spouses to reach agreement.

Today, it is well accepted that licensed financial professionals, trained in the financial aspects of divorce, cash management, retirement plans, and tax, among other areas, are best situated to marshal the financial data, assist with developing options for dividing property, and create budgets and cash flow scenarios.

And, it is well-accepted that attorneys are best used for their analytical, counseling, negotiating, problem-solving and legal drafting skills.

The IACP Research indicates that 88% of Collaborative cases are settling or spouses are reconciling in the Collaborative process. The vast majority of Collaborative clients are satisfied with their experience in the Collaborative process and are satisfied with the fees they pay to a full team of Collaborative professionals.


IACP is now just under 5,000 members strong with members in 29 countries. IACP has a staff of 6 including Talia, with an office in Phoenix, and a respectable budget to provide resources to the worldwide community.

Because of so many thought leaders in this community, the participation of all of you and so many others in IACP, Collaborative Practice is firmly anchored with:

  • A definition
  • Standards of practice that set minimum requirements for professionals, trainings and trainers;
  • Ethical standards addressing the unique features of the Collaborative process, which the professional disciplines do not deal with;
  • A Practice Group manual to provide guidance to groups locally seeking to come together; and
  • A best training practices manual to assist professionals around the world with developing trainings.

IACP has held 14 amazing Forums – every year since 1999. It has put on five Institutes – three in the US, one in Italy and one in Australia, to deepen and broaden the reach of Collaborative Practice. Publications go out to IACP members worldwide, including:

  • The high quality Collaborative Review and
  • The Collaborative Connection newsletter.

Blogging, sharing videos and pictures from around the world occurs through Be-Fulfilled.

We now have 325 Practice Groups worldwide. All of you here this evening, and many, many who are not able to be with us, have devoted innumerable volunteer hours to establish your Practice Groups, to develop an organizational structure, protocols of practice, and Collaborative trainings. 

Collaborative Practice is gaining not only increasing acceptance, but also increasing recognition for the valued problem-solving process developed. Five Collaborative Professionals have received the ABA Problem Solver Award for their work in Collaborative Law and related fields: Stu Webb, Pauline Tesler, Woody Mosten, Harry Tindall and Ron Ousky. The Boston Law Collaborative also received this award. UCLA/R has become law in 13 states, and is being considered presently in 8 additional states.

For the last 25 years we have laid a foundation for Collaborative Practice, a foundation established in bedrock. Today Collaborative Practice is most definitely part of the legal landscape – one given credence not just in the Collaborative community of course, but recognized in law, in courts, in law schools including Harvard, thanks to David Hoffman, and yes, in bar associations and among those adhering to the traditional court model. 

The very important benefits of interdisciplinary work has spread beyond the borders of Collaborative Practice, to other dispute resolution processes, because of the work of so many of you. I dare say that because of Collaborative Practice, not only are tens of thousands of families better off, but our society as well is better off.  

So, we have climbed an enormous mountain, and it is with some pride and a great deal of gratitude to all of you, for all that this large community has accomplished, that I stand here this evening with you, at the start of this amazing weekend, looking forward to our celebration! Thank you to each and every one of you for your contribution to the important work we do.  

What Does the Future Hold?

And, when the weekend is over, we will begin the next 25 years. The challenges ahead will be different than the ones we faced 25 years ago.

First, as to the Collaborative process: We as professionals, particularly in communities that now have some longevity, recognize that part of the challenge of effectively assisting people with resolving disputes and transitioning to a new chapter, is not just to understand and become skilled at process, but to understand more deeply ourselves – our conflict styles, our relationship styles, our values and beliefs, as compared to those of our colleagues and to become better adept at working together in teams of trained professionals - professionals who are inevitably different in fundamental ways.

In addressing this professional and personal layer of conflict resolution, we will improve our modeling for our clients in terms of what we are asking of them, and we will continue to advance the boundaries of conflict resolution.

We also must continue working on how to make the Collaborative problem solving process usable in areas other than family law.

Second, as to the Collaborative community: We have seen that Collaborative Practice deeply resonates across cultures and across legal systems. As communities around the world look for a better way to assist people with legal issues particularly as they involve relationship, more professionals will embrace Collaborative Practice. Our global Collaborative Practice community is a large community and we will grow larger. With this growth comes enormous diversity – legally, culturally, linguistically, religiously as well as geographically.  

And, our worldwide Collaborative Practice community is at very different stages as to  experience with Collaborative Practice model. This difference in experience levels will continue to grow as new communities emerge.

The benefits of the diversity and different stages of development are great. We will learn more about the human condition and we will develop deeper and more nuanced procedures for problem solving and meeting the needs of our clients if we continue to share our learnings worldwide with one another. Younger and newer communities will bring in fresh ideas and perspectives that will add depth to the Collaborative process.

But, the challenges this diversity poses are huge. It is critically important to persist, and be patient, in the face of obstacles, within our community. Just as there will be successes and causes for celebration, there will be frustrations and setbacks. Opportunities to connect may be less frequent than desired or needed. Trainings are expensive. Translating resources so they are available across cultures and legal systems is difficult. Educating the public about the enormous benefits of this process continues to be a challenge. And, yes, our own egos show up in some position-taking as we develop expertise and set goals and standards.

Our community has faced and continues to face the stark reality that it must solve its own issues in much the way that we counsel our clients to solve theirs: using a process that cares less about ego and rights and more about interests and relationship.

And, last with regard to society: Our world looks very different today than it did 25 years ago. Dr. Julie McFarlane, a law professor at the University of Windsor in Canada, and head of the National Self-Represented Litigants Project which recently conducted a study of self-represented litigants, informs us in her latest research that in California, over eighty percent of family law cases have self-represented litigants. In 1971, forty-four years ago, only one percent of family law cases involved at least one self-represented litigant. This trend of people representing themselves is spreading certainly across the US and Canada, and across practice areas.

Technology has exploded. Whereas it used to be that only the “experts” had the answers, today answers to just about any question exist online.

As a result, the Collaborative community and the larger legal community face very real social changes that affect how people handle disputes. We in the Collaborative Practice community must recognize the changing landscape of the world, and continue to structure and adapt our process to meet the needs of our clients. 

We will want to message the value of Collaborative Practice, not just to those headed to court, but also to the multitudes who reject the legal system because of stories they have heard. Increasingly, certainly in the area of family law in North America, court ordered settlement processes are more and more common. We will want to articulate the differing values of these processes as compared to Collaborative Practice. 

Cost for clients is an ongoing issue. IACP research shows that Collaborative Practice cases are not inexpensive. Can we bring costs down? At the very least, we will want to become better at demonstrating the great value received for costs incurred.

Over the past 25 years Stu’s vision grew and spread to unimagined reaches – because it resonates so deeply with our humanity. I believe Collaborative Practice can and will lead the continuing evolution of dispute resolution over the next 25 years - if we accept leadership in this endeavor. 

The challenges ahead differ from the ones that existed 25 years ago. But, the necessary ingredient for moving forward is no different than it was at the birth of the Collaborative movement. The inner conviction that there had to be a better way, held initially by one man with the courage and audacity to follow his conviction, and now held by so many of us, will propel us into the next quarter century. 

With the passion and yes, audacity of this community, we have the capability to take dispute resolution to new heights in the next quarter century!!

Comments (1) -

10/30/2015 4:08:41 PM #

NIce:  "The inner conviction that there had to be a better way........" For me, a follow up might be: And the readiness to make the inner change that it takes to travel that "better way".  
All so well said, Linda.  
It's nice to have specific markers.... like our "25th".... to look at where we've been and what it takes to go where we want to.
You've done a great job of, implicitly, highlighting that our "crossroad", our time to look back so that we can move forward, is always NOW.  
You've always been a blessing to us.  Thank you for your time in 'the chair'.  

View my profile on www.collaborativepractice.com

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