"Technique without compassion is a menace. Compassion without technique is a mess."
- Karl Llewellyn
Berg, Debele, DeSmidt & Rabuse, P.A., was founded by lawyers who believed that the best solution for the client was one that solved the problem and was cost-efficient. We believe that creative solutions to our clients' problems include looking beyond the courtroom and traditional litigation. We have long struggled with the idea that certain alternatives to litigation required restricting our clients' access to the courts. We know based on our partners' collective experience of over 75 years in the Minnesota family and juvenile court systems that even the best of intentions can fail. We know that in some cases, the most efficient and cost-effective means of resolving a dispute is in the litigation process. Yet we want our clients to be able to avoid the unnecessary conflict and unwarranted costs associated with traditional litigation unchecked by experience and common sense. It has been our consistent experience that the best results for clients in disputes come about when both sides are represented by competent, experienced and knowledgeable lawyers. When we can pick up the phone and call the other side, agree on the disclosure of information, a process for determining issues with neutral experts to avoid duplicative costs and a means to negotiate an agreement, everyone comes out of the process feeling they were treated fairly and with respect. To that end, we have decided to incorporate the Cooperative Law Process as a tool for clients to use in all types of cases.
The Cooperative Practice is a technique available to attorneys and parties who want to cooperate to resolve issues, using the courts only when absolutely necessary.
Key features of the Cooperative Practice include:
- It is an open and voluntary process. The attorney(s) for the party or parties do not need to be members of a particular organization or have past experience with Cooperative Practice. All that is necessary is for the particular parties and counsel to agree to formalize their cooperative agreement in a Participation Agreement.
- The Participation Agreement is premised on the buy-in of the participants into certain principles:
- To engage in good faith negotiations
- To try to settle the case
- To participate in this process with respect and civility
- To voluntarily disclose all relevant information
- The Participation Agreement requires the parties and counsel to agree to certain open strategies for the discovery of information and development of equitable resolutions:
- To engage joint neutral experts when such assistance is necessary
- To provide the verifiable information necessary to create a balance statement of the marital estate (where relevant) sworn to under oath
- To provide verifiable information on income and expenses under oath
- To be receptive to and considerate of the needs of the children as a first priority
- To promote healthy co-parenting
- To invoke a 20-day "cooling off" period and meet with a mediator or neutral evaluator prior to engaging in contested litigation, unless there is an emergency or agreement
- To encourage the limitation of litigation to specific issues the parties have been unable to resolve through the Cooperative Practice
- With the Cooperative Practice, there is no "disqualification requirement" in the event litigation is necessary. In other words, if litigation is necessary, the parties can continue to work with the attorneys who already know them and know their needs.
Many attorneys use the principles of Cooperative Practice on an informal basis in most, if not all, of their cases. Indeed, the courts actively encourage many of the Cooperative Practice principles, such as the voluntary exchange of relevant information. At Berg, Debele, DeSmidt & Rabuse, P.A., we offer Cooperative Practice as a method to formalize this process when it is appropriate for a particular case. By defining the terms of engagement, all of the involved parties, including counsel, share a framework for resolving the issues and a commitment to the Cooperative Practice principles. In other words, all parties and counsel are using the same "playbook."
We cannot guarantee the results of any particular case, including cases where Cooperative Practice is used. However, recent research by Professor John Lande and David Hoffman suggests that parties who use the Cooperative Practice are more satisfied with the process, outcome and efficiency.
If you are interested in learning more about the Cooperative Practice and whether this process may fit your needs, ask your attorney at the initial consultation.