Collaborative lawyer: Peter Lustig
Organisation: Commercial Collaborations
Short biography: Peter has been an international sailor, musician, community activist and practicing lawyer for over 35 years. In that time he has gone from being a "traditional" headkicking litigator to now being a collaorative practitioner (where lawyers work together to empower their clients to find their own solutions), mediator, Pathways Foundation leader and more recently the Board Chairman of the ManKind Project Australia.
Peter is father to two boys and a girl. Both boys think they are 28. One is and the other is chronologically 14. His 16 year old daughter is 19 or 20 and right now, knows just about everything. His wife Tina is an internationally acclaimed artist, a Pathways Women's leader, transpersonal art therapist and labyrinth facilitator.
What was your pathway into collaborative law?
Basically almost all of my life to date! I regard my experience as a warrior for decades in commercial litigation as formative; they gave me a down to earth insight into the futility of adversarial litigation and its enormous monetary and emotional costs. At the same time, that approach didn’t necessarily solve any issues; merely instead giving outcomes, often unsatisfactory to all sides and creating a raft of other issues to still address. Probably the most important of which would be loss of relationship between the litigants.
What do you see as the main advantages of the collaborative approach?
AAAHHHHH. Great question! If the relationship you have with the person/people/organisation you are having difficulty with is in any way important to you, collaborating is the best way I know of which honours that, whilst still addressing whatever is the issue. Indeed, how many times have you had a real heart-breaking fight with your partner? Everything seems to be turning to the proverbial; you may even be contemplating “what’s the use” and perhaps be heading out…And somehow something turns and you make up – not brushing over the disagreement; instead really getting to its crux and cleaning it all up. Don’t you feel then your relationship is even stronger than before? That you know yourself and your partner that much better? So too, a collaboration. Ultimately, it’s using conflict as a creative and binding force; a springboard to growth. And solving whatever is the issue as a by-product. So in the result, you not only have an issue resolved, but a stronger, more resilient, more mutually knowledgeable relationship to boot! In a word, everyone has grown.
What uses do you put it to?
Addressing almost any and all commercial disputes, along with personal ones such as estate claims. Indeed, one of the best ways to address estate claims is before they become that! An example was when I attended a series of meetings with the testator and her family. Her then current will was read, discussed, argued and ultimately, a new one drawn up which took on board the diverse views of both her adult children and herself. It’s always so much easier to change a will whilst the testator is still alive!
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Two main ones. By far and away the biggest one is having the legal profession specifically and the business community generally accept collaborations as a rational, heartful and sensible paradigm for addressing conflict and issues. I suspect that in turn is powered by the size of the egos involved; the bigger the ego, the more likely to head off to a large team of very highly priced lawyers and do some hitting (of the other side). The bigger the ego, the more likely are the control issues…and they go to lawyers who in turn are a large subsection of the Controlus Freakius variety of Homo Sapiens!
The second issue is with my own “stuff”. The more I am unaware of what is running me, the more likely it is that I’ll be a control freak and that I’ll be “triggered” by something which is brought up in the collaboration. Conversely, the more I do my own work; the more I am aware of who I am and my own strengths and limitations; my primary and other identities or shadows if you like, the more I am able to sit with strong emotions and reactions, observe them for what they are (HUGE sources of invaluable information) and create space and appropriate responses for the participants to the collaboration.
What advice do you have for students wishing to practice collaborative law?
Go for it! It’s heartful and holistic and you won’t be sorry. Get a really good basic grounding in as many areas as you can so you’re working off a good base; then be open to participating in as many forms of ADR, including collaborations, as you can. And do your own work on yourself!
What advice do you have for practising lawyers wishing to practice collaborative law?
Exactly the same. Unless of course you also want to spend the next ten, twenty or however many years traipsing to the Office and doing the same thing (or variations on it).
What are the pitfalls a traditionally-trained lawyer should be aware of?
Essentially, her or his own training! We’re trained to push for answers; to crowd responses and to channel in predetermined pathways. Being collaborative is virtually the opposite; it’s learning to enable energetic and psychic space, time, options and freedoms for participants; to be fluid whilst at the same time, facilitating towards an agenda which may well be a changing one. In other words, keeping both a focus and a timelessness in the same moments. Paradoxical? For sure and that’s where the juice is!
I want to convince my employer to include a collaborative component in what we can offer our clients – how can I approach this?
First, learn more about collaborations. Second, learn more about yourself so that you will be able to sit inside of them and be effective. Third, invite me to speak to a breakfast, lunch, evening or other gathering of all personnel to talk about it! Or get someone else to instead or as well. Fourth, ask your employer how many instances s/he knows of where the case was won and still the client effectively lost. If there’s only one, I’d be surprised…and then ask whether a way of avoiding that outcome would interest them? Most lawyers I know at least pay lip service to searching for truth, justice and fairness, if not more. I suspect the vast majority are fairminded and would want really great outcomes for their clients; not necessarily to have them be Lord over the charred ruins of a thermonuclear devastation…
What things should a traditionally-trained lawyer be aware of when entering into collaborative practice?
See above. And empowering the clients to set the agendas; to say what’s important to them. Then you can ask why.