Collaborative Law in Legal Education: No Time Like the Present

26 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2010

See all articles by Jill C. Engle

Jill C. Engle

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Date Written: June 21, 2010


Collaborative law is an innovative Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) modality which has grown at an unprecedented rate since its inception in 1990. Thousands of attorneys throughout the United States and around the world are utilizing collaborative law to resolve civil cases - largely divorces - without litigation. This article points out that despite its widespread acceptance and use among practitioners, collaborative law has been all but ignored in the legal academy. Although a handful of law schools offer collaborative law training in clinical settings and/or teach its concepts in doctrinal courses, its presence is barely felt compared with more entrenched ADR modes like mediation and arbitration. Excluding collaborative law from legal education, however, is ill-advised. Although it has its fair share of critics, collaborative law is clearly a method of resolving disputes, particularly in the family law realm, that is here to stay. The growing use of collaborative law is but one facet of its burgeoning acceptance into mainstream legal practice. Collaborative law has also been institutionalized by state legislatures, Texas being the first to do so, and sanctioned by numerous state bar associations. Bar associations, in fact, including the American Bar Association, have been particularly active regarding collaborative law, likely because of the intensity of practitioners’ investment in collaborative law as a practice area. Not all reports have been completely favorable, as mentioned above. An equivocal ethics opinion by the Colorado bar association and criticism from the litigation section of the American Bar Association have raised questions about the ethics and utility of collaborative law.

Collaborative law advocates have responded with frank, detailed dialogue on the topic with institutional stakeholders and with leading practitioners, judges and scholars. They have also investigated certification and training guidelines, and methods of incorporating collaborative law into practice in ways that are meaningful and productive for both clients and practitioners. For example, the Uniform Law Commission approved the Uniform Collaborative Law Act in 2009. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) employs rigorous standards for membership, which serves as an informal regulation of the practice of collaborative law because most lawyers practicing it are members of the IACP. The collaborative law community, despite its newness and its lack of mandatory licensure or other formal practice requirements, has done a remarkable job of expanding the practice in an orderly fashion in a very short time. Law schools must recognize this growing ADR modality. Collaborative law should be integrated into legal education by way of examination and dialogue within the classroom in family law and ADR courses, and exposing students to its practice in clinical settings as well. This article recognizes the difficulties in incorporating collaborative law but offers concrete proposals for adding it to law school curricula, and gives several examples of the few vanguard laws schools already doing so.

Suggested Citation

Engle, Jill C., Collaborative Law in Legal Education: No Time Like the Present (June 21, 2010). Penn State Legal Studies Research Paper 16-2010, Available at SSRN: or

Jill C. Engle (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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