Collaboration Is a Better Way to Solve Our Most Difficult Problems


Aug 02, 2016 | EDR Blog

By Lauren Barros for EDRblog.org.

Lauren BarrosSeveral years ago, I became a member of the Collaborative Family Lawyers of Utah.  It made sense to me to encourage families to seek to resolve their problems collaboratively, rather than in court.  Although most of my clients do not use a formal collaborative process, I incorporate principles of collaborative law into every conversation I have with clients and opposing counsel, every day.  We get better results when we continuously strive to resolve the dispute throughout the litigation.  Here is why: 1) clients are more willing to support and implement a solution they helped create than one mandated by a judge; 2) a solution reached before trial preparation saves money and time, two things that are very important to people going through a divorce; and 3) judges’ orders may not be as well tailored to clients’ situations because the court may not have the same priorities and/or know the facts as well as the parties.  The upshot is that, by focusing on shared values, our clients have the best chance of getting what they want and resolving their disputes in a more satisfying way.  We also know that, if negotiation ultimately fails, at least we have seen the other sides’ best arguments and evidence, and at least we know we have done everything we can to work the problem out ourselves.

It is from this background that I found myself interested in the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  I recently returned from lobbying in Washington D.C., with my husband, 14 year old daughter, and her classmate.  We were among 800 Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) members from around the country, including eight students from Utah.  CCL advocates for federal “carbon fee and dividend” legislation.  This would impose a carbon fee on fossil fuels and rebate the fees to households in dividend payments.

Carbon fee and dividend is the climate change solution most climate scientists and economists support to keep our planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (the amount beyond which catastrophic consequences are likely).  Carbon fee and dividend is a non-regulatory, market based approach.  As proposed, it would reduce carbon emissions significantly more than the Clean Power Plan.  In order to ensure U.S. jobs don’t migrate to other countries, CCL also proposes equivalent tariffs for goods entering the U.S. from countries without comparable carbon fees.

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What attracts me to CCL is that it seeks passage of carbon fee and dividend legislation by developing relationships and having discussions with federally elected representatives.  The approach of CCL is to lobby members of Congress with respect, appreciation, and gratitude for their service.

I now see that the techniques collaborative lawyers use to help families resolve their disputes are the same techniques we need to help a partisan government reach a shared solution to climate change.  Litigation may ultimately be required, but it will be more effective if we collaborate along the way.

On CCL Lobby Day, I saw the collaborative approach in action.  It was obvious that focusing on the shared value of a sustainable world is starting to bring sharply divided people together.  It is a slow process and requires much patience.  Strong statements and the best legal arguments do not reap the satisfaction of legal victories.  But this cooperative work may get us further.

In D.C., the realization that we actually can effect change through discussions with people with whom we disagreed empowered all of us, especially the students.  I couldn’t help but think about divorcing parents, who report greater satisfaction when they create co-parenting solutions for the benefit of their children than those with court imposed orders.  Similarly, any change in the law regulating carbon that comes from working together will likely be more palatable, better accepted, and longer lasting.  While in D.C., I learned that that CCL helped encourage the formation of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucu in the House of Representatives.  In just four months, nine Democrats and nine Republican members have committed to finding bipartisan climate solutions.  We are making a difference over time.

We know that further increases in global temperatures pose imminent and substantial dangers to human health, the natural environment, the economy, and national security.  It is well documented that the warming planet is increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events, such as the recent devastating floods in West Virginia, and forest fires in California.  In Utah, diminished snowpack similarly increases our risk of fires, jeopardizes skiing (and the industry that goes along with it), and threatens our water supply for drinking, industry, and farming.  The reality is that we are on track to increase our global temperature well beyond the maximum that civilization allows (two degrees Celsius), as determined by the Paris Agreement.  Two degrees is unlikely to happen unless the U.S. leads the way.

The time to act is now.  We must have these conversations with our friends, family, co-workers, and those with whom we disagree.  We need to get carbon fee and dividend legislation passed before it is too late.  As lawyers skilled in the art of seeking common ground and mediating disputes, we are uniquely equipped to have these types of conversations and make a difference with our legislators.  I encourage lawyers who are concerned about climate change to use their collaboration skills and get involved in the political process.  The most difficult problems facing our world will require this approach.

Lauren Barros owns LRBFamilyLaw, and is a partner in Barros, Greene, & Hales, where she specializes in divorce, surrogacy, adoption, LGBT law, and complicated family law issues.  Lauren is AV rated by Martindale Hubble, a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Lawyers.