The State of Washington has enacted a set of statutes that collectively are referred to as the Uniform Collaborative Law Act (“UCLA”). The UCLA formally establishes Collaborative Law as a unique legal process to resolve legal issues, being distinct from mediation, arbitration, and traditional adversarial (court) processes. With Governor Inslee’s signature on this legislation, Washington became the seventh state to enact the UCLA.
The significance of the UCLA is that it specifies what elements are needed for a settlement process to be properly identified as Collaborative Law, and it establishes specifically how Collaborative Law is to be practiced throughout the State of Washington. Historical, legal representation has been based upon the concept of adversarial process, a “me against you” way of thinking. Unfortunately, when it comes to family relationships and continued parenting dynamics that continues after a divorce, the traditional adversarial process often damages whatever relationship might still exist.
Utilizing the collaborative law approach keeps the focus on the parties’ goals and interests, often resulting in the divorcing couples developing a new type of relationship to replace the old dysfunctional relationship that contributed to the divorce or legal separation. The UCLA provides specific legal parameters for the how the process is to be started, conducted, and concluded, including the use of a participation agreement and the requirement that the Collaborative Law attorneys will need to withdraw from the matter in the event that the collaborative process does not result in a successful resolution of all issues.
The passage of this legislation also marks a major transition point for attorneys, in that they can now work together as a team while representing their clients, and can do so in a totally cooperative and non-adversarial effort. Prior to passage of the UCLA, collaborative law attorneys relied upon the participation contract to permit a collaborative team approach, but some traditional litigation attorneys had argued that this was a possible breach of an attorney’s duties. The concept of “opposing” attorneys working together to help the parties find their own solution is contrary to the typical law school training that attorneys have been subjected to; this changed way of thinking associated with Collaborative Law is often referred to as a paradigm shift. The UCLA now eliminates any theoretical ethical dilemma for attorneys who can see the wisdom of using collaborative law for divorces and to resolve other family law conflicts.
The UCLA also reinforces and strengthens the confidential nature of the collaborative law process. In this day and age of instant electronic access to most any public record, it is reassuring to the participants in the collaborative law process that their financial disputes, martial conflicts and other related legal problems will never to part of any public record.
Several collaborative professionals from the Spokane area were involved to various degrees in the passage of the UCLA. Of special note were the roles that Spokane County Collaborative Professionals (“SCCP”) board members John Burke and Dena Allen played in the passage of the UCLA. Dena Allen, a director of SCCP, was able to enlist the assistance of a Spokane city councilman who understood the good that the UCLA could do, to open a line of communication with the Senate Judiciary Committee's chairperson so that the questions and concerns of that key committee could be identified and addressed by the UCLA’s supporters across the entire state.
John Burke, a founding director and current member of both SCCP and Collaborative Professionals of Washington, was one of nine collaborative law attorneys from across Washington who testified before the judicial committee in Olympia, Washington, regarding collaborative law in general and the benefits that passing the UCLA would provide to the residents of Washington. Additionally, John Burke accepted an invitation to travel one more time to Olympia on May 3, 2013, for the signing of the UCLA by Governor Inslee (seen directly behind and slightly to the left of Governor Inslee).