Are we listening? What clients say they want. (Part 2 of 8) - Clients Tell Us That Process is Very Important, and Suggest a More Nuanced Understanding of Process is Needed

By Linda Wray, Co-Chair IACP Research Committee

Perhaps not surprisingly, but at the same time also surprising, is the degree to which process factors matter to our Collaborative clients, according to the IACP second large scale research survey (membership to IACP and logging in required). We Collaborative professionals emphasize process a great deal; we are skilled at conducting a true problem solving process and we strive to provide our clients a dignified, respectful process. Hence, clients who decide to use the Collaborative Process probably want these features in their divorce case – we shouldn’t be surprised that the Survey results show us this. But what is surprising is just how very important process factors are to clients’ satisfaction with their divorce. Clients’ satisfaction with a variety of process factors is much more predictive of their satisfaction with their Collaborative case than is their satisfaction with their financial outcomes, parenting outcomes, or their post-divorce relationships. (Interestingly, this seems to be true, albeit to a lesser extent, in the traditional court process and in other settlement processes.)

Since process is very important to the Collaborative model, have we struck gold? Have we discovered the secret to divorcing people well? Yes, I truly believe so, but… like most of us find in other aspects of life, there is always room to learn, grow and improve.

There are many process factors. One is the respectfulness of the process - we know that our Collaborative clients greatly value a respectful process and they are, by and large, quite satisfied with the respectfulness shown in their Collaborative case; this in turn casts a glow on their satisfaction with their Collaborative case.

This, however, does not hold true for all process factors. The factor most predictive of satisfaction with the Collaborative Process is clients’ satisfaction with “control in the process;” the number of clients quite satisfied with this factor is much lower. The same is true, for example, with “efficiency of the process” and “attention to clients’ needs and interests.”

What does this tell us about “control in the process?” Are we giving clients too much control, or not enough? Perhaps we aren’t tailoring control sufficiently to each individual case? Or, perhaps this is an area where Collaborative Professionals should not expect a great deal of client satisfaction because, of course, divorce clients likely feel that their lives are quite out of control? If we explore this factor a bit more, can we be more sensitive to clients in a way that is helpful to them, so they experience their control during the process more positively?

With regard to the “efficiency” of the Collaborative Process, we can all imagine some frustrations with scheduling, particularly in cases involving several professionals. On the other hand, clients have varying capacities to do their “homework,” show up to a joint meeting ready to work, and make hard decisions. How might we improve clients’ sense of efficiency in their individual case? Can we better set client expectations at the beginning of the case, use or better use mental health professionals to assist spouses who are not wholly in the divorce process, or perhaps eliminate services that clients don’t seem to want/value? Does this factor, in light of clients’ responses regarding it, warrant further consideration?

Why isn’t client satisfaction with “attention to needs and interests” greater? Louise Livesay-Al explores this a bit in her upcoming article.

The IACP study challenges us to consider in a more nuanced fashion clients’ experience of the many elements of “process” – as these process factors are important to their divorce. I encourage us to take up the challenge, so as to continue improving the way people experience divorce.

Linda K. Wray, J.D. - Linda is a Collaborative attorney, mediator and litigator and has had her own family law firm since 1995. She has chaired or co-chaired the IACP Research Committee most years since its inception in 2005, and has presented extensively on the IACP Research. Linda is a past Director and President (2015-2016 term) of the IACP Board of Directors. She was the 2006 President of the Minnesota Collaborative Law Institute, and is serving her sixth year on its Board of Directors. She was instrumental in representing CLI-MN before the Minnesota Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the General Rules of Practice and the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding enactment of a court rule of Collaborative Practice. She represented CLI-MN as an Observer at Uniform Law Commission drafting committee meetings on a Uniform Collaborative Law Act. Linda has been named to the Minnesota Super Lawyers list every year since 2003.