John Susko’s A Better Way to Divorce Episode 1
• Welcome to John Susko‘s A Better Way to Divorce podcast. •
In this first episode, John talks with Stu Webb about the history of the Collaborative Divorce movement and how Collaborative Divorce is healthier for the couple divorcing and the professionals involved.
Announcer: Welcome to John Susko’s A Better Way to Divorce podcast. John Susko is a Florida family law attorney whose practice is focused on collaborative divorce and mediation. Now, here’s John Susko.
John Susko: We’re here for my first podcast with Stu Webb, and Stu is the father of the collaborative movement. He is just a gracious, sweet person. I mean, you have touched my soul.
I mean, you touched my soul by that one interaction in Philadelphia, where I was trying to find out what had happened to your movement, and you quietly said to me, “John …”
You put your hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and told me what my wife had been telling me for all this time, but coming from you, there was such a spiritual … I mean, all of a sudden I have no longer regret, and you did that. Stu, tell me how collaborative divorce started.
Stu Webb: John, just to tell you, so that you know and other people know, that I was 20 years in litigation, family law litigation, and it’s bullshit. It takes everything out of us. We try to do things to help people accomplish what they don’t need.
There’s a beautiful story about the guy that comes into a lawyer’s office and says, “What’s two plus two?” The lawyer looks around, and pulls the shades, shuts the door, and says, “What do you want it to be?”
John Susko: Right.
Stu Webb: That’s what litigation is about. We go down to the lower level of our consciousness of the people, and we try to be their representative for all their hate and greed, and so forth. So after 20 years of that, I said, “I’m going to quit the practice of law.” I hated to come to work in the morning, and you never knew what was going to happen, that was going to upset everything.
You follow a plan, just like I’ve upset everything you were going to plan. It’s like, you never know what’s going to come next. So I always tell the story about the old cowboy movies, a number you might remember those, John, back then, when a cowboy would come back to his shack at night. And he’d put a stick, he’d put his head on a stick, and he’d stick it in the door, see if anybody shot it.
And that’s the feeling I had when I came to work in the morning, as a litigating lawyer. You never knew what crisis was going to come up, that was going to upset your whole day.
So I said, “The hell with it. I quit. I’m going to start taking some courses over at the U, and I’m going to become a therapist.”
John Susko: Right.
Stu Webb: So I have to go, if I’m beginning to, if I’m willing to quit the practice, start thinking about it. Maybe there’s some way to do it kind of outrageously. So I started taking a look at that. What do I like to do, well, as far as law is concerned, what I don’t like to do.
I figured that, “Well, I like to help people help work things out.” So I tried different things and nothing really it came about, but I another lawyer friend. She and I got along well together. She was in family law.
She said, “Let’s just sit around a table with, if we got a couple of clients, sit around a table, see what we can work out.” So we had quite success for that for few times.
Then we got that, we never had any kind of agreement to get out of the case, it doesn’t settle apart. We just tried to work it out. So then we got that horrible case, that all of a sudden, it all fell apart, and we took it to court. And it was the worst case I’ve ever had.
Well, it was all kinds of crazy stuff going on, and I never could figure out, where you do that, “Is it the client? Or is it the other attorney doing this?” So all of a sudden our relationship starts going to hell.
All of a sudden, through all of that, after the trial was over, if the “Aha” moment was, if you’re in, a settlement lawyer, and you can’t get a settlement out of it, get out of the case, and let it turn over to the brain surgeons, to let them fight it out.
So the full thing is, you turn around, instead of in litigation, where your lawyer is being the performer. Man, we’re having to perform. All of a sudden the shift is, “It’s the client’s thing. We got to help them find a way to settle this.”
John Susko: Stu, was this … I understand what you’re saying about going forward with that attorney that you were with. So you and her got sideways, the relationship between you and the other lawyer, that had been good, became strained.
Stu Webb: Not strained. We never did anything, never, hardly spoke to anybody ever, after that.
John Susko: Okay.
Stu Webb: I mean, I was officing with her actually. So we had separate practices in the same office. Anyway, whatever.
John Susko: Okay.
Stu Webb: The “Aha” moment was, you got to be, you get out of the case if it doesn’t settle. And that’s where I got the idea, it’d be a collaborative. And so I decided to do that. I was so excited, I knew I wanted, in 1990, I declared myself a collaborative lawyer. Now, John, there weren’t any other ones.
John Susko: Right, right.
Stu Webb: So it’s like, you had to find some, you have to find other people to play with. So I said, sending some friends some cards to some other friends of mine, who were in the family law business. And we had about four of them respond.
We said, “Let’s just play the game. Let’s just try it.” And the idea was, we’d get out of the case of it doesn’t settle. And otherwise, we’ll just sit around the table, and help the parties work it out.
Now the key for that is a paradigm shift, John. It shifts from being in the energy in the consciousness of the party. And you become, you keep your own consciousness as high as possible. That’s what you call the paradigm shift. And it is the key to helping parties get settlement.
Because if you hold your space, the clients, all of a sudden, they’re fighting. They start rising up because they get a projection from our consciousness. And the consciousness, the higher consciousness that we hold, is a low consciousness. And I don’t mean love in the traditional culture way. I mean love in the sense of consciousness.
The best description I can make of love consciousness is, you watch a movie. And then the background of the movie there’s music. And usually we don’t notice the movie music while we’re watching the movie.
But then at the end of the movie, we see the credits, “Oh, I didn’t really play that music.” Well, love consciousness is the music of our practice. And so if the client, if the participants are holding to have consciousness, at the same time they’re doing all the other stuff, it’s just a background.
It’s a projection. John. We project that higher feeling, and the clients start picking it up, or they don’t pick it up. Sometimes they don’t.
John Susko: Right, right, right.
Stu Webb: And then it’s just a regular case. Every so often, there’s a special, special case that comes out of collaboration, because you’re working as a team, and you’re working, has trust and honesty. And all the facts are on full disclosure. Everything’s on the table. And we work as a team, or we work with individual lawyers.
They take each lawyer, and they’re working for theirself, they’re working for their own client, but they’re also holding this space for a potential settlement for all parties. It’s sort of like in Buddhism, I’m a Buddhist, in that everything we do in a loving way, we do for the benefit of all sentient beings.
John Susko: Stu, let me explain something. I agree with everything you say. I mean, let me explain. My first case, I had that experience. I mean, it was beautiful. I mean, it was, and I’m trying to get more of those cases. And I mean, you’re preaching to the choir, because I see that, and-
Stu Webb: But John, well, let me tell you-
John Susko: Okay.
Stu Webb: What I think, how to get more cases.
John Susko: Okay.
Stu Webb: Every client, every potential person that walks into your office, you show, you talk to them about all the options they have. And if you’re a collaborative lawyer, you own collaborative law. You have a franchise for collaboration.
That franchise, there’s only two rules for your franchise. Usually, franchises for McDonald’s, you have to wear a certain uniform, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, no. Two rules for your franchise. One, you get all the case, that doesn’t settle. Two, that you hold the higher paradigm shift, feeling you can, and then you’re working with a team.
So, like your basketball experience, you’re working with a team. And then the basketball experience you can feel will flow sometimes. And that’s the same flow that can come from one of the magical collaborative cases. Keep in mind, they’re not all magical.
John Susko: I understand that too. I understand that.
Stu Webb: The best marketing you can possibly have is that everybody that walks, come to you, not knowing what they want. You can tell them everything.
What I would find, after I did that, I said, “Now here’s the one that I,” particularly, in fact, I learned that I only did it right up from the bat, exclusively. “I don’t do anything but collaborative.”
Right away, no fear that you’re going to lose clients. You got a whole open vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. And so, all with that vacuum comes what you want. If you worry and say, “I have to take my litigating cases, because otherwise, I’d lose money.” No.
John Susko: Let me pack-
Stu Webb: You have to own it.
John Susko: Okay.
Stu Webb: And when you own it, you get creative for your business, and you project something. If you don’t own collaboration, if you say, “Now there’s something you can do, and some people do this, and some people don’t,” and you’re saying, “Here’s what I love, and here’s what I do,” 90% people that come through your office will open it up.
Then you have to explore how you can do it, how you can match other people, and how you can get the other person involved. And if you’re working with a team, teams are wonderful. When we came to having the teams, that had a whole ‘nother stress. And around a team, you can help people keep that loving consciousness.
John Susko: Stu, let me ask you, I mean, can you take me through the ’90s, through to the IACP? I mean, tell me. It started in Minnesota, then it went to California, then it went to Texas. Then it went to Florida. Then it went around the world. And how did all that happen? I mean …
Stu Webb: First of all, it didn’t happen overnight.
John Susko: Right.
Stu Webb: If you came, if you ever had a physics course in school, or a music course, you take a tuning fork. And that tuning fork, you hit it, and it activates. You have another tuning fork over here that’s not activated, you move those two closer together, this one starts activating.
So I took the collaborative law insight out of selfishness. I wanted to find a way that I could be happy in my practice. Selfishness.
John Susko: I looked at that-
Stu Webb: At the same time, selfishness, and so, it resonated the people like it resonated to you. People say they’re picking up that feeling.
They’re picking up that feeling that, “Oh my God, I can, I could do this. I can do a practice of law in a way where I can be myself and grow in my understanding of myself, at the same time, helping other people, and helping other people in my profession to rise up into that feeling.”
And to help other clients get to be able to see, “Oh my goodness, we’ve been caught up in this conflict,” we start dissolving the conflict by our presence. And I didn’t do any marketing. So collaborative law people would hear about it.
I had 20 people in Santa Cruz, California, “Can you come out?” And I said, “I don’t have any kind of training. Just went out and talked to them about it.” And when we got there, probably in, I don’t know, in 1995, maybe five years or so, maybe, it grew. People started hearing about it.
Pauline Tesler in California was one of the first people that it resonated, bang, bing, bing. These were people from other people, mostly from California, but other places. And out of those 21 people, they’re all probably pretty principled people in the early collaboration. And the amazing thing was, out of those 21 people, there were the core people that became interdisciplinary. And ironically, and synchronistically, they were already, as non-lawyers, doing collaboration without a lawyer.
So they would have ads that said, “Are you lawyer adverse? Come to us and we’ll try to help you work it out.” And then when they get to the point of working it out, they didn’t have any lawyers to turn it over to, because the lawyers never buy it. So all of a sudden collaboration comes along and puts that key. And so all of a sudden, we had the possibility of interdisciplinary.
John Susko: Can you talk up? This podcast may be for some potential clients. Tell them about the benefits of the collaborative process. I mean, you’ve been talking to me as a choir, but I mean, tell me, tell us, what are the benefits of going for it?
Stu Webb: Why don’t you tell me the benefits?
John Susko: Okay. I think the benefits are, first of all, transparency. There is, you-
Stu Webb: What do you mean by transparency?
John Susko: In other words, the exchange of information without a whole lot of hassle, and the privacy, and also, in this process, husbands and wives can apologize, and get their interests taken care of.
Stu Webb: The benefits is, is honesty and being yourself.
John Susko: Okay.
Stu Webb: And so, a good example for you, the parent. When you were a parent and your kids were … You have more than one kid?
John Susko: Ah, two. Two adopted children.
Stu Webb: All right. Well, if the kids were acting up, you can get down and get fussed up with the kids. “Now, you work this out, and you go over there, and you do this and you do that. And I’m going to send you to your room, blah, blah, blah.”
Or you can just send them a little love and look at them. And the kids, if you’re acting out there, if you’re getting caught up with it, they’re having fun. They’re bringing the kid, they’re bringing the family, the parents involved with their struggles.
If you don’t pay that kind of attention, just send them love. It’s not working for them. They say, “Well, forget that game. Well, let’s go play.” It’s the same kind of thing you provide them.
So I don’t think he wants to get in too much of that kind of deal. You know, pre transparency, honesty, trust, those are the things that help. And having a lawyer on the other side, parties that are there, that are on the other side that are, or you can trust and respect, and the lawyers respect each other.
You out that it’s more relaxing, it’s more, being able to be yourself. And at the start, they aren’t going to be that way. So it’s a process.
You have to be natural yourself in how you present it. You present it from yourself, from your feelings. You don’t present it from rules and listing benefits. It’s your inner work that has to be done. That’s part of it, your inner work of being, learning to be loving and being yourself. So I don’t have any magic to tell you how to do it.
John Susko: I mean, I am a believer in this process. I mean, back, well, I told you, I was in one of the first ABA trainings for mediation. And I came back and I thought I was going to become the McSusko-
Stu Webb: Yes, I loved that. I loved your speech. I loved your [inaudible 00:22:32].
John Susko: I mean, McSusko of Florida mediation. And it didn’t work, but I was happy going and talking to people about the process, because I believed in the process. And you saw my article, it was almost like collaborative, but there wasn’t the ability to get out.
Stu Webb: That’s right.
John Susko: I mean, but short of that, it was close. It was a process. And all that happened was, it just got me more cases, so I could sit for my exam, and I passed it. And I wasn’t still going to go forward.
So I’ve had a long history with lawyers in town. And when I got out of the practice in 2000, I was sad because I had reached the top of my profession, and I couldn’t do it. But wasn’t sad about all those lawyers that I didn’t have to deal with, because they were awful.
And I guess what I’m trying to figure out is how to … And I have tried the lawyers in my county, who are board certified lawyers, to try it. Because I know that if they decided to do it, they could bring their clients. And is that a fruitless exercise? It has been for me. So I guess I’m asking for some magic potion, I guess.
Stu Webb: Think you’re trying too hard.
John Susko: Right.
Stu Webb: Trying too hard. You can just enjoy what you’re doing. And if you can find one or two other lawyers. What I’ve found works best for a group, a new one, and I work … Well, what’s the name of your city?
John Susko: It’s the West Florida Collaborative Divorce Collaborative Group.
Stu Webb: Okay. You’ve got some great, great, there’s a wonderful lawyer group in Florida. And so, what I recommend, anybody, that’s just wondering how to get going, you bring in someone from the outside. You don’t try to be the leader. You’ll bring in … You know, Jesus didn’t, be able to do anything in his hometown.
John Susko: I understand that. You know, I mean, I understand that. I am familiar with that passage, and I understand, wow, [inaudible 00:25:15].
Stu Webb: All right. So what I’m saying is, I tell someone, so what you want to do is talk to some people that you’re just interested, something, any, it doesn’t have to be any interest in it at all.
They can get a CLE credit for it, that you bring in an outsider, an expert, and well, a collaborative lawyer, a teacher, or a team, even, and you have a seminar. And you either do it free, or you do it some cheapie tuition. And you pay for it, for them, probably. Or some people would do it for nothing, whatever.
But anyway, you bring in someone from the outside, and you listen to it, just like everybody else listens to it. And you don’t become the local leader. You just become one of the folks.
I remember going out to California, to Ventura, California, there was nine people, [inaudible 00:26:24]. Never met them, never met him in a board of directors meeting. After the first four hours, they were talking about how to, how they could get together and do it. So I was just checking. I could go home, and not … Well, they just needed to know the details.
See, the total model was, “Do you want to play this? Hey, anybody want to play this? Just give it a try. Let’s just try it.” So that’s how it started. Four of us. And so we started making up the rules.
Some of those, some of the agreements we have basically started right there. Now, we have to have some rules. We had to have some rules about how we operate. All of a sudden, we just did it, and had some great results at that time. But you know, some good, some bad. But you start.
And you don’t pay any attention to it, trying to make it happen. My God, you’d never, we don’t, would get anything done trying to make it happen. You just do it. And you send out this feeling of, “Well, but you have to like, what you like to do.” You project that.
John Susko: So you’re basically giving me a second course that you started up in Philadelphia, by looking me in the eye and saying, “You’re a collaborative lawyer today. And I appreciate that.”
Stu Webb: Yeah, yeah.
John Susko: And let me also explain, I think you are right. I think that I have, in 2016, I became a disciple of collaborative. And I talked to as many people as I could.
I talked to Ron [Owski 00:28:31], probably had about two hour conversation with Ron and, and all the people. I mean, you have people in California, and they were all the most generous people, the most sweetest people. And I have had better friends in the last three years than I had in 30 years of practicing law.
And you’re right, you are right. So let me ask you, I have had, I’ve had people in the movement that don’t believe that collaborative can or should be done by zoom. And then I have other people that think [crosstalk 00:29:07].
Stu Webb: Well, you don’t listen to any of that stuff.
John Susko: Right, right.
Stu Webb: You just do it. And so, that’s the kind of thing that happens with mediation. You know, mediation is split into 70 different theories, and it’s all nonsense. You just do it, and you don’t worry about whether something’s right or wrong.
You see if you’re being ethical and you’re being honest, and you’re being, doing something from your heart. That’s what you pay attention to. We lawyers, we’re programmed in our heads. We need to be more programmed in our hearts. And our hearts are a separate brain that projects love.
Our heads project love and fear, love and fear, love and fear. So we have a congruence between head and heart. It can’t just be heart, because we have to remember our Social Security numbers too. And we don’t walk in front of buses, you know, this kind of stuff.
John Susko: I understand what you’re saying.
Stu Webb: We don’t fly off the top of the building, that kind of stuff. And we don’t shout down the hall of the churches, listening to the words of that ham, folks. You don’t do that. You just project it, and you just do it honestly for yourself, and love other people, and welcome people if they want to try it.
But you don’t try too hard to fix it. Because I’ve learned, so painfully, that you can not fix anybody else. It’s all is yourself. Anything you see how here that doesn’t fit, it’s your projection. It’s part of you being projected out here. And so, you project low, and you’ll see lip.
John Susko: Let me, Stu, I want to thank you for this. This conversation has been a success. And I’m telling the world that this is Stu Webb, the father of collaborative movement. And thank you.
Stu Webb: You know, the father of something kicks the kids out the door. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m kicking you out the door.
Go, go do it, just got to do it. Don’t bother me anymore. No, I’m just kidding there.
John Susko: Thank you, Stu. And I’m going to call you, probably six months from now, or maybe a year from now. I mean, that way, we can do another-
Stu Webb: No. We can do another Zoom, then.
John Susko: Right. Another Zoom, and we’ll talk, and-
Stu Webb: We won’t do it for publication, we just do it for cash, okay?
John Susko: That’s right. And again, Stu I loved it. And thank you very, very much.
Stu Webb: I love you too.
John Susko: And have a happy eighty-ninth year, your ninth, ninetieth year, and have a great time.
Stu Webb: I do. Thank you.
Announcer:This has been John Susko’s A Better Way to Divorce podcast. John Susko is a Florida family law attorney. If you’d like to learn more about collaborative divorce or mediation, go to susko-collab-med.com, or click on the link in the show notes below.