From the moment I stumbled across this quote by the legal pioneer and visionary Pauline Tesler: “who the lawyer is matters as much as the power of the lawyer’s intellect” I knew I had to meet this woman! Chance was in my favour and I was able to include an afternoon in San Francisco with Pauline in my Canadian trip itinerary 2 weeks later – in July 2012. When I heard Pauline explain her extensive work in Collaborative Divorce, I vowed then and there to bring her to South Africa. Fast forward 8 months, many sleepless nights, a distinct lack of sponsorship of any kind but a steely resolve remained that the Centre for Integrative Law would bring Collaborative Divorce training to SA come hell or high water. In April 2013 I proudly introduced the powerhouse that is Pauline Tesler to roomfuls of South African attorneys!
For years individual lawyers in South Africa tried to get Collaborative Practice off the ground here but were constrained by the significant costs of bringing an experienced CP trainer to SA and amassing enough lawyers to attend training in something not yet familiar in SA family law. Sunel Beeselaar of FAMAC wrote a paper on Collaborative Divorce as part of her Masters in Conflict resolution at the University of Stellenbosch’s Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement. I met Sunel at the CIL’s First Integrative Law Conference featuring US guest Kim Wright, in September 2012, and her belief that SA was ready for Collaborative Divorce training spurred me on.
Pauline Tesler is world-renowned as the Collaborative Divorce guru but her other more recent area of expertise is equally fascinating: neuroscience and law. In order to make the most of Pauline’s SA visit we arranged for her to provide Collaborative Divorce training and Neuro-literacy for Lawyers in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. You can read more about what the Neuro-Literacy Training involves here. You can read comments by delegates here.
In the end, it was the attendance by substantial numbers of Legal Aid delegates who attended the Johannesburg Collaborative Divorce Training, and the Neuro-Literacy for Lawyers Program, which made all 4 events possible. My attempts to obtain sponsorship showed that Integrative Law and its new practice areas are still treated with some scepticism by many legal professionals in South Africa! But I have a sense this is about to change and that support from the larger firms for training in Mindfulness, Collaborative Divorce, Therapeutic Jurisprudence, Transformative Mediation and Conscious Contracting amongst others, will soon materialise. There are hundreds if not thousands of lawyers in SA who are ready to embrace the momentous shift faced by legal systems and legal professionals everywhere. The Centre for Integrative Law is committed to ensuring that those lawyers in SA who are ready, have access to the latest, courses, training and practice areas developing worldwide.
The 35 lawyers trained in Collaborative Divorce were extremely enthusiastic and welcomed a new way of practising. It was heart warming to see, in sharp contrast to the jokes made about “sharks”, a group of lawyers on the edge of their seats wanting to know more about empathy, about compassion, about helping divorcing spouses maintain dignity and respect for each other. Many of the lawyers drawn to CP are those litigators who have excelled at trial but realised the enormous toll it has taken on them and their clients and is ready to find another way to help spouses separate.
The NACP (National Academy of Collaborative Professionals) is the chosen name for a South African organisation or affiliation to take this movement forward in SA. Practice groups have been created in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. In order to really get Collaborative Practice off the ground, more attorneys will need to be trained (as every Collaborative Divorce needs 2 attorneys) and attention needs to be brought to the public about this alternative method.
A sad postscript to this article is tragic news sent to me by one of the attorneys trained in CP in April, from Johannesburg. On 18 July a man in Johannesburg shot his ex wife and both daughters before shooting himself. The mother is apparently alive in hospital. It is believed that they had gone through a painful divorce and had issues around the visitation rights for the children amongst other things. While lawyers cannot necessarily prevent tragedies like these, there is no doubt that divorce is such an immensely traumatic event that lawyers have to receive better training to recognise warning signs and to help clients access their highest selves, and to access the greatest vision the client can possibly hold regarding their future relationship with their children and ex spouse. Lawyers also need to work with mental health professionals, as in the CP model, so that help is available for clients who are not able to manage their experience.
A second round of Collaborative Practice training looks like it will take place in late November, early December. Please ensure you confirm your subscription to receive Shark Free Waters if you want to receive news on early registration specials. Or get in contact with some of the wonderful people in South Africa who are working to make divorce easier for clients, be they lawyers, social workers or spiritual divorce coaches.