Collaborative Practice in Law Schools
Sherrie Abney shares information about the class she is teaching to upper class law students at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
This spring is the second time a three hour credit class on civil collaborative law is being taught at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Texas. Other colleges and universities have offered one hour credit courses for workshops in collaborative law; however, it is believed that this is the only three hour, semester long collaborative law course taught in any accredited university or law school anywhere in the world.
The syllabus for the class begins with the history of law which allows students to understand how the current legal system developed. Next students are given an overview of various forms of dispute resolution and how each one works. The various dispute resolution procedures are viewed on a continuum with litigation at one end and collaborative law at the other. Students learn to advise their clients of the procedures that are available to resolve their disputes after taking into consideration the interests of their clients, the other parties, nature of the disputes, and the available forums. Students learn how they may apply collaborative skills to all dispute resolution procedures—even those of an adversarial nature.
The course continues with discussions and role play regarding interest-based negotiation, recognizing candidates for the collaborative process, and the paradigm shift that must take place to go from an adversarial to an interest-based process. Participation in in-depth activities and discussions regarding each step of the collaborative process allows students to gain confidence in the use of the collaborative process. Role plays are designed around business and commercial disputes, probate, medical error, personal injury, and construction matters—to name a few.
Last spring the class used a draft of a textbook written by the instructor, Sherrie Abney. Stu Webb wrote the Forward to the book and in it he states, “Hopefully this book and subsequent training will create the initial energy for civil-law practitioners to experience the break-through in their area of expertise that we family-law practitioners continue to experience as we support clients to achieve collaborative agreements.” Hopefully more courses will be taught in more schools and the break-through will happen soon. The title of the book is Civil Collaborative Law, The Road Less Traveled. It was published last fall and is available on Amazon.com.
Sherrie R. Abney
What are your thoughts on this development? Do you know of other law schools that have begun to teach this attitude and approach?