Are we listening? What clients say they want. (Part 1 of 8) -- Hey Team! We’re valuable to clients. Why don’t they remember this?

By: Deborah Clemmensen, Member IACP Research Committee

The 2015 IACP Survey of clients’ satisfaction with their divorce process resulted in many interesting, compelling, and sometimes completely unexpected findings.   The IACP Research Committee intends to use these findings as a springboard for shared insight and creativity in deepening and expanding our Collaborative Practice toolkits.  We will be sharing a series of practice tips in the Collaborative Connection based on six major findings from the Survey, followed by a webinar to go into more detail, and then hopefully a workshop at the 2020 Forum in Toronto to really dive deep.  I have the privilege of sharing the first practice tip.

The Survey found that client satisfaction with their Collaborative attorneys was fairly high, and strongly correlated with their satisfaction with the Collaborative Process one to three years after the process was completed.   This finding confirms the value of well-trained, highly competent attorneys who have made a paradigm shift to embody the principles of Collaborative Practice in their advocacy for their clients. My take away for attorney colleagues is, “Keep Up the Good Work!”  Your clients remember how important you were during the process.

But Collaborative Process is often done in multidisciplinary teams, with neutral professionals taking the lead on chunks of the work.  We neutrals are also well-trained, highly competent professionals who have made the paradigm shift. Yet, what Survey results told us about how the use of neutrals correlated with client satisfaction with Collaborative Process two years later was a surprisingly different story. 

Here’s the thing:  clients did express varying degrees of satisfaction with the neutral professionals on their cases (They like us!  Hey Mikey!). We might aspire to higher levels of client satisfaction, but I believe Collaborative neutrals are probably doing a great job.  However, this does not correlate to client overall satisfaction with Collaborative Process.  What is being lost in translation? 

We recognize the value of interdisciplinary Collaborative Team Practice.  However, we would love to have clients remember and acknowledge that the use of financial and mental health professionals was highly connected with their satisfaction with the process.  But are we doing a sufficient job of highlighting the real benefits of these services during the case? 

This is the only time most clients have gone through the emotional and financial stress of divorce; accordingly, most clients have no first-hand basis for comparing Collaborative Practice with traditional processes.  As professionals, we understand the value financial and mental health professionals bring to understanding and de-escalating conflict, coaching respectful communication, handling hot button issues during interest-based negotiation, generating financial options, creating child-centered parenting plans, etc.  Possibly, clients take this a bit for granted, especially if their legal advocates are perceived as their ultimate champions. Could it be that the team also takes the value of non-lawyer services a bit for granted?

So here is our practice tip:  Make a point of highlighting the advantages and value of using the services of all team members in a genuine way.   It may be especially impactful to educate clients about how their divorce process would have gone differently were it not for the Collaborative mental health and/or financial professional(s) involved in their case.  This can be done at the beginning and middle of a case, but may be especially important at the end.  

When possible, focus on specifics.  “Chad did a remarkable job of assisting you with finding financial solutions that really worked in your case.  This made everything flow more smoothly.” “Lee really understood the complicated dynamics you had to work through to come to resolutions.  Without her insights, we could have gotten stuck many times in joint meetings.” “Brian helped you with a truly creative parenting plan. The resolutions you made on behalf of your kids would have been difficult to achieve without his developmental insight.”

If I really love a film, I may think all the credit should go to the director and the actors who have done a remarkable job.  Unless someone reminds me of the core role of the cinematographer, the writers, and the costume and set designers, I may take all of that for granted.  We need to highlight, with our clients, the value of each professional on their case.

Deborah Clemmensen is a licensed psychologist with over 40 years of clinical experience working with children, adolescents, adults and families. Deb participated in the first Collaborative Team Divorce training in Minnesota over 19 years ago, and was immediately convinced of the significant benefits of a Collaborative process to help keep children at the center and out of the middle during and after a separation or divorce.  She has been a Neutral Child Specialist ever since. Deb has twice been co-president of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota, and currently serves on the board. She's been an active member of the CLI local and regional training team for 15 years and has done several presentations at the IACP Annual Forum