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IACP Forum Considers Collaborative Law in Internal ADR Programs

For the ten years since the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) held its first annual Forum in Galveston, Texas, the IACP Forum has been an incubator, a source of training through workshops and a place for the exchange of ideas on the cutting-edge use of Collaborative Law (CL). This year, as over 650 Collaborative Professionals from 24 countries gathered in Washington D.C. from October 28-31, 2010 for the tenth Forum, the flow of ideas continued in dozens of educational workshops and presentations.

Two employment lawyers and collaborative practitioners, Michael Zeytoonian from Wellesley, Massachusetts and Marc Sheridan from Mount Kisco, New York, advanced the idea of using the Collaborative process of dispute resolution as an internal program to be offered by corporations and large organizations. Their presentation was part of the IACP's annual Civil Collaborative Law Roundtable on October 30, attracting Collaborative Law practitioners from around the world. Sheridan and Zeytoonian focused their presentation on the advantages to employers of offering an internal process for addressing their disputes to employees, as well as some practical considerations for setting up such an internal program.

Suggesting that organizations try it as a one year "pilot project," Zeytoonian identified the value this kind of program would provide to companies and institutions: "The advantages to this kind of program - preserving relationships, preventing the draining of resources, the time and cost savings, and the confidentiality of this approach - address the very same concerns and needs of the employer," he pointed out. In addition to satisfying these needs, "This kind of approach can create solutions that are specifically crafted to the circumstances of the situation. It also sends employees a message that, as a business philosophy, the company cares about them enough to offer a program that serves both the employees and the employer well."

Marc Sheridan addressed the potential market for internal dispute resolution programs, noting that several clients, corporations and potential employment clients have expressed an interest in setting up such a program. "In my meetings with employers, they see the value of this kind of program," Sheridan noted. "Besides the obvious cost factor, the ability to resolves disputes more expeditiously, avoid risk, and maintain privacy is extremely appealing. " He also addressed issues including how the program would be paid for, the creative and efficient use of experts in the CL process, and how to respond to the resistance of employers to try the program as a pilot project.

"The burden-shifting in most employment cases requires the employer to demonstrate the remedial measures taken as part of its defense," Sheridan continued. "As a result, to control litigation risk, most large corporations have a tiered internal dispute resolution process, which includes mediation. CL offers employers the opportunity to a value-added method of control at the outset." Reiterating Zeytoonian's earlier comment, Sheridan remarked, "Employers are generally concerned with public image and retaining quality management personnel. CL by design protects those interests."

A question and answer session followed the presentation. Questions raised by the session attendees included how to distinguish the CL attorney's role and service and how to "pitch" CL as an alternative to litigation. Sheridan responded, "As an attorney you generally want to present yourself as settlement counsel with limited representation. We are not looking to take business away from litigators. To the contrary, we are expanding the services we can offer to clients."

In addressing CL as an alternative, Sheridan commented, "We use professionals trained in litigation, mediation, and CL. Unlike litigation, clients control the speed and efficiency of the process and outcome. There is no judge or jury." He then quoted IACP statistics that CL has enjoyed a 90 percent success rate in matrimonial disputes, with most of the cases settled in seven to nine sessions. "In other words," he clarified, "as far as CL is concerned, the alternative is going to litigation."

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