I knew the lawyer would be a strong and direct advocate for his client. I was apprehensive of a clash between him and the opposing spouse. To my relief, the pro se party brought in advisory counsel for the day of the mediation. I knew there had been talk of this, but I did not know that I would have two evenly matched parties until the day of the mediation.
What I was seeing before me was a demonstration of just how useful unbundled legal services can be. With my help, the two about to be ex-spouses negotiated through about half of their issues by lunchtime on day one, and they set things over for another half-day session some weeks later.
The advisory counsel had obviously been engaged to do some preparatory work on the case, because she came in with a clear grasp of the circumstances. She was able to respond to my comments and suggestions as effectively as opposing counsel. A partial agreement was reached, but not signed. The second session was scheduled to address the remaining issues. From my perspective, the first session was a success because we were able to establish a working environment in which progress could be made.
At the second session, the pro se party came alone. As first order of business, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) capturing agreements from the first session was signed. Then, we resolved the remaining issues, and I left the parties to work on a second MOU for that session. I suspect they all slept on that before anything was signed. The unrepresented party was at all times free to consult with counsel as needed. I don’t know whether everything worked out, but I rather suspect that it did. If it was wanted, I am sure the unrepresented party had the opportunity to have a second MOU reviewed by counsel.
I understand the urge to seal a deal the day it is made, but therein lies the risk of buyers’ remorse from hastily made agreements. This couple had to remain functional as parents for their children, and I liked that nobody was trying to pull a fast one.
The idea of engaging a lawyer to just do part of a case is still new for the public and lawyers alike. Lawyers who do this work can be hard to find. For this reason I have added a new web page about unbundled legal services, and lawyers who take clients of modest means.
The courthouse in Jefferson County now posts a referral list of lawyers who offer these services on its web site. (Read their disclaimer if you are thinking to hire one of these lawyers.) My personal hope is that such listings will become generally available for all Colorado courts, and that more lawyers will consider this work. Lawyers working as advisory counsel are certainly welcome in my mediations.