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April 14, 2014

Putting Together Collaborative Law – Start to Finish

This article is from Kim Munsinger, a partner with San Antonio law firm Munsinger & Munsinger. Her practice focuses on family law with an emphasis on alternatives to litigation, including collaborative law and mediation. She is also the editor of Collaborative Law: Start to Finish, now available through TexasBarBooks.

When my colleagues Norma Trusch and Julian Schwartz asked me to head the collaborative law book project for TexasBarBooks, I didn’t know where to start. Who was the audience — existing collaborative lawyers, new collaborative lawyers, neutral experts? What was the book’s purpose? What tone would be appropriate — conversational or academic? There were already good consumer books on collaborative divorce, but this book was for lawyers and hopefully, our neutral experts. Before I agreed to take the job, I asked to be the editor rather than chairperson because I knew one person needed to keep the book’s concept — whatever it was — in mind in order to produce a coherent, useful book.

I began by researching all the Texas collaborative CLE articles starting with the first glimmers of collaborative practice in the early 2000s. Between articles from the advanced family law course and our collaborative spring conference, I assembled a list of topics that program chairs thought were important. I also noted which authors were interested in particular topics. I had stacks of articles, which I reviewed and sorted. This took weeks.

Finally, while stranded on the runway in Houston for hours with a good-sized stack of CLE papers and my yellow pads, I put together the book outline and picked authors for each topic. Most of them enthusiastically agreed to do it.

The resulting book is a practical, how-to guide for both collaborative beginners and experienced practitioners, including our financial and mental health neutral experts. The chapters, which are roughly chronological, follow a case from its beginning to settlement. It’s full of practice tips, case stories, and references to the included annotated forms set. The annotations explain the purpose and sometimes background of the form. To a beginner, a forms set without any explanation has marginal usefulness. For established practitioners, the annotations can highlight a new approach; for example, Texas Divorce Options is a new way to look at collaborative law and the alternatives.

The book includes a document set in addition to the forms because I wanted everyone everywhere — even outside Texas — to have access to Stu Webb’s letter beginning collaborative law, our fine lawyer protocols of practice, and our innovative Texas statute. These essential documents follow the annotated forms.

I owe a lot to my hardy band of authors who read my directions and wrote their chapters to each fill a unique place in the book. Thank you to Kevin Fuller, Curtis Harrison, Jennifer Tull, Linda Ronconi, Tracy Stewart, Mike Gregory, Janet Brumley, Jennifer Stanton Hargrave, Kris Algert, Larry Maxwell, and Harry Munsinger. As the chapters rolled in, my job was to maintain a consistent, readable style. Fortunately, I picked good writers to begin with, which simplified my job.

As the book developed, I continued to work closely with senior editor Diane Morrison and director Sharon Sandle of TexasBarBooks. We tweaked chapter titles, chapter order, and the forms set during the process. Our goal was to create a practical, useful book that will educate Texas lawyers about collaborative law and perhaps share our Texas expertise beyond our borders.

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