Hagstrom Law and Mediation, PLLC

Family Law, Estate Planning, and Conflict Resolution

Posts Tagged ‘Hagstrom Law

Article Featured in ‘With Equal Right’

January 14th, 2013 by Anna Hagstrom

I’m honored to have been asked to write a feature article for With Equal Right, the quarterly publication of Minnesota Women Lawyers, on the topic of Generations in the Workplace.  I focused on how my generation of law school graduates is Redefining Success – in light of the various challenges we are facing.  Read the full article here.

The Power of Conversation

October 15th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation” – Jonathan Sacks

I heard the quote above a couple weeks ago, and it has stuck with me. As I’ve been mulling it over, I have seen parallels to what I do as an attorney and as a mediator. In both these roles, I am often there to support my client (as attorney), or both participants (as a mediator) in having hard conversations.

When we are willing to talk to someone, we lose the idea that they are the “other”and it becomes more difficult for us to be angry with them or think their viewpoint is out of touch. We may not agree, but often a conversation reduces the “violence” – not just in the physical meaning, but in the sense of calming emotions, reducing name calling, blaming, etc.

I was on the phone with a client recently, preparing for a team meeting in a collaborative case. I noticed that much of what we discussed in preparation for the meeting centered on being willing to have the tough conversations that might come up. He said that if a certain topic came up and he got frustrated, he would walk out. I asked him to be open to just staying in the room when things get tough.

Engaging in true conversation can be very difficult, but I think it can be broken down into two key pieces. The idea of “staying in the room” can be a broader metaphor for the first component: in order to have a conversation, we have to actually be physically present. This may sound too obvious to be worth writing, but it can be very difficult to get together to have a conversation that we are dreading. Or to bring up the thing that we really want to talk about (elephant in the room?). Once we get there or to the topic, if we can resist the urge to walk out or change the subject when things get tough, we take a step towards opening new possibilities.

If we can then do more than just being physically present – to being mentally present in that moment alone, not worrying about the past, the future, not analyzing or figuring, just as present as possible, we really open the possibilities for the conversation. This is the 2nd part: in order to have a true conversation, all participants need to be and feel heard. The way to accomplish this is often by focusing on the other person rather than on our own argument (often easier said than done).

Typically when we have a “conversation,” we are actually evaluating, thinking of comebacks, trying to problem-solve, worried about having something smart to say in response, or other self-absorbed thinking. I have experienced how it changes the dynamic in a room when one participant (even a third party mediator) begins listening not to aid their own position, but truly listening for understanding. Often, that is when progress begins.

These two steps can help us have those hard conversations: being willing to stay in the room, and trying to truly hear and understand the other person.

Is there a conversation you are dreading? Are you willing to just stay in the room, or bring up that topic? What would happen if you gave up all objectives other than really understanding that other person?

Let’s “Get Artisan” – Workshop with Neil Denny

September 17th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

I attended a training with Neil Denny, a solicitor (lawyer) from the UK, presented by the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota last Thursday and Friday. Over the course of the two days I learned and experienced so much, but one thing that has been stuck in my mind is Neil Denny’s challenge for us to be “Artisan” in our work. Here’s a link to his blog devoted to the idea.

He warned us to watch out for just doing a job in our daily work, and instead posed the challenge for us to think of our work as a “craft.” I took away from the training a desire to approach my work as an artisan: with the desire to do a job well for its own sake.

Not only does this achieve a better product (and what could be more important in a profession where I provide services to other people), but it puts us in a better mindset about our work. How often in our society do we hear our friends grumbling about their job – I hate my job, I don’t like the work, I don’t like the routine, if only xyz would change I would be happy. In fact – that was me a few years ago!

But, when I took responsibility for making my job what I wanted it to be, when I recognized that there was a particular way I wanted to go about providing the service to my clients – there was a process I wanted to use because of the results it achieved for my clients and myself – I stopped being a victim of my job and started making my job work for me. I think, in Neil’s words, I took a step towards being “Artisan.” The value and quality of my product has increased as well.

I was talking about this idea with my husband, who is a web designer and developer, and he said he thinks about it as “geeking out.” Its good to geek out about your job – be curious about everything there is to know, new ways of doing things, adding things that have never been done before, thinking out of the box – this will produce excellence in our work and make us enjoy working! And, whats more, “if you geek out hard enough about something, it stops being nerdy, and starts being cool.”

When we talk about something we are passionate about it is easy and we are animated. We all have those things that make us tick – why not build off of these in our work?

So I’ll ask the questions Neil asked of us – what are you “artisan” about? And, why not “get artisan” about your day job?

** The photo above is of my supplies for something that I am artisan (or geeky) about outside of work – cooking!

Tidbits From Training – Mediation Skills are Useful to Many Professionals (Transformative Mediation Series Part II)

June 26th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

I was recently a guest presenter and role play coach at Twin Cities Mediation’s civil and family mediation trainings. It is always reinvigorating to teach mediation and see others’ enthusiasm for the possibility of offering those in conflict a real solution and way to improve their lives.

Both trainings were attended by not only attorneys but a variety of other professionals as well: a school principal, police officer now working in the mental health area, yoga instructor, therapists of various types, and more. I noticed that no matter their background, participants shared the realization that mediation (and the transformative model in particular) offers a useful way to help others at a basic human level.

Training participants observed that mediation is widely applicable to the conflict that is all around (and within) us. I attribute the broad appeal of the transformative approach to its acknowledgement that we all experience conflict the same way – as a threat to our ability to function as our highest self.

The experience of conflict manifests in different ways for different people, and may be expressed outwardly as anger, fear, frustration, yelling, checking out, attacking others, sadness, impasse, inability to process information, irrational behavior, and more. Because conflict is so prevalent, learning how to address the root of the conflict is refreshing to all of us – especially those of us in “helping” professions.

No matter their field or background, training participants expressed gratitude that they learned such a practical approach to conflict, a way to shift their clients’ destructive interaction. In addition to acting as a mediator in the future, many noticed ways they can incorporate mediation techniques in their work and personal lives – including success in applying transformative mediation skills to interactions and conversations with their children!

The internal focus on restructuring the conflict interaction itself – rather than seeking only an agreement on the external issues – is part of what sets the transformative model of mediation apart from other approaches to mediation. This ability to change conflict interaction also makes transformative mediation so widely useful across professions.

Where Should I Store My Will and Other Estate Planning Documents?

June 19th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

Congratulations – you have completed your estate plan, which likely includes a Will (containing trust provisions if applicable), Health Care Directive, and Power of Attorney. Now – where to keep these documents?

Will

An ideal location is a fireproof safe. If you do not have a safe, keep your will in a safe location along with other personal documents. Some county courthouses allow wills to be deposited and filed for safekeeping for a small fee. A safe deposit box is another option. Wherever you choose to store it, make sure that someone other than your spouse knows the location of your will and has access (combination to the safe, access to safe deposit box, etc.). You might want to give a copy of your will to your personal representative, trustee, or guardians, but it is not necessary to do so.

Health Care Directive

It is a good idea to retain the original, and provide a copy to each agent named in the document. Additionally, you should give a copy to your primary care physician to be kept with your medical records, and bring a copy with you to any medical procedure that you have.

Power of Attorney

I recommend that you store your original power of attorney with your will, making sure that your attorney in fact has access. You may also choose to give an original to your attorney in fact. Since this document is effective immediately and is very powerful, that choice should be made carefully.

Because you may not be able to direct someone to the location of these documents, it is important to let a trusted family member or friend know the location and how to access your documents if necessary.

Do I Need A Will?

June 11th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

I think there is a common misconception that a will is only necessary if you have feuding family members and a very large estate. Since we don’t often discuss wills, our exposure to estate planning in popular culture is usually limited to the dramatic reading of the millionaire’s will. Exaggerated portrayal of the subject makes it easy to think that wills and estate planning are for “them,” not for “us.”

I recently came across a news story on Jason DeRusha’s blog, answering the question “Should you have a will?” The article provides some great information, including pointing out that if you don’t write your will, the statute writes one for you – in order to control what happens after your death you need to make a will.

Children are the first and most important trigger in my mind that someone should have a will. Yet, people often don’t come to me to make a will until they have heard stories of (or experienced first hand) the difficulty following the death of a loved one who did not have a will. Most people are unaware of the legal headache that not having a will causes for their family. The good news is that much of the procedural difficulty can be removed simply by having a will.

In contrast to the dramatic portrayal, the reality is that if you have children you should have a will – regardless of how much money or assets you have. A will covers many areas, including naming guardians of minor children, deciding at what age children receive money, naming a trustee to manage any funds in trust, designating who will be in charge of wrapping up your affairs, and more. Writing a will is also a simple process (and – often not as expensive as people assume).

Yes – if you are a multimillionaire, you should have a will. But, if you are the average family, you need a will too!

I’m Getting Divorced, What Are My Options?

June 5th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

I spend a lot of time educating my clients about the various processes available to them. There are always more options than they are aware of. Below is an outline of (only some!) of the options available for resolution:

Neither party has retained an attorney:

  • Self Help.  Utilize self help centers through the county court websites – come to an agreement and draft documents on your own.
  • Mediation.  Meet with a Mediator who is an expert in assisting you in having a conversation to resolve any remaining topics. Typically this option is less costly than retaining an attorney.
  • Limited Scope Representation.  Many attorneys offer “limited scope” services, including drafting the final agreement at an hourly rate or a flat fee. This is a cost-effective approach for individuals who have reached an agreement and want an attorney to make sure they have covered all necessary topics and include proper language.

One or both parties have an attorney:

  • Agreement.  The parties (or attorneys) can settle the case at any time, including before service of documents (initiating the legal proceeding), and their attorneys can draft an agreement (Marital Termination Agreement [MTA] or Stipulated Judgment and Decree).
  • Mediation.  A Mediator can help you reach an agreement, often in just one meeting – even before investing time and money to initiate the legal proceeding. As above, an attorney can then draft an MTA.
  • Collaborative Law.  Both participants can hire an attorney who practices Collaborative Law – making an agreement that those attorneys will not represent you if you decide to litigate the case. A great option for anyone who is interested in a method of resolution that discourages the type of conflict that litigation often causes – this model is more involved than mediation and the process includes more steps.

Other things to know:

  • Acceptance of Service.  Rather than formal “service” of the documents, which can add conflict, feel adversarial, and is not always private, the Petitioner’s attorney can mail the documents to the Responding party (or their attorney). The Responding party then signs an Admission of Service – a simple form stating that you received the documents.
  • Should My Attorney Attend Mediation?  It’s up to you. You can request that you meet with the mediator without attorneys present. Each client has their own needs regarding the presence of attorneys at mediation, in my view it is up to each client and what makes you most comfortable. In my role as an attorney, I tell clients that I can be available by phone during the mediation if they want to attend alone but would like to be able to ask me questions.

These are choices that impact the way your divorce will feel, how satisfied you are with the outcome, the cost, and more. There are many options, and no single route is right everyone. I encourage you to gather information and choose the process that is best fit for you.

 

Presentation on Transformative Mediation

May 8th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

I am excited to be presenting a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) class for the New Lawyers Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association on May 10th, entitled “Keeping It Real: Transformative Mediation Offers A New Way to Help Clients in Conflict”!

I am co-presenting with Dan Simon, a leader in the field.  We will explain the transformative theory of conflict that forms the basis for the model of mediation, share insights on the unique benefits that the transformative model offers, and provide an overview of the mediation options available to attorneys.

I am particularly looking forward to sharing tips for using the theory of transformative mediation to effectively represent clients during any type of mediation.  The transformative theory of conflict teaches us that it is not only OK, but in fact helpful to allow clients to “Keep It Real” during mediation:  as attorneys we can provide a way for clients to regain control, address their “intangible” concerns which are often ignored, have the conversations that they really want to have, and more!

Transformative Mediation Series Part 1: Not all Mediation is Created Equal, An Overview of Mediation and ADR Methods

April 27th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

You may not know that there are a variety of practices falling under the heading of “mediation.” When I began attending mediation with clients, I noticed strong differences in the way mediations were conducted. Initially, I attributed these differences to the personal style of the mediator. From my research on mediation trainings I learned that there are actually distinct types of mediation, each using different techniques. The model that your mediator practices will greatly influence your experience.

In order to understand what makes the transformative model unique, I will first discuss the main approaches to mediation. Each approach utilizes a “neutral” mediator, arbitrator, or other professional – a third party who is not involved with the conflict or parties and is trained in some method of dispute resolution. The role of the neutral varies, as does the degree of directiveness in each method. By “directiveness” I mean assertion of opinion, judgment, knowledge, power, advice, or any other tactic which pressures the participants to achieve an outcome-realted goal (for example, the goal of reaching a settlement). I find the degree of directiveness of the neutral to be a useful way to compare the methods.

On the spectrum of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods from most to least directive we have Arbitration, Evaluative Mediation, Facilitative Mediation, and Transformative Mediation (these are not the only ADR options, but the ones I will highlight below). It is worth noting that the degree of directiveness of the method does not necessarily correlate with the outcome (rate of success), nor with the participants’ satisfaction with the process (more on this in a later post).

Arbitration is the most similar to having a court or judge decide a dispute. It might be voluntary, however many agreements and contracts contain arbitration clauses requiring arbitration of any dispute that later arises under that agreement. In these proceedings, the arbitrator decides the case based on facts presented, typically determining issues such as liability and damages. Arbitration is sometimes non-binding, in which case it is used as a way to get a third-party opinion on the merits of each party’s legal case. Whether binding or non-binding, arbitration is closely tied to the litigation process. The parties do not have input into or control over the decision.

Evaluative Mediation is a highly directive process with the express goal of obtaining a settlement in the pending litigation. The most common framework for evaluative mediation places the parties in separate rooms (with their attorneys), and the mediator passes offers back and forth between the parties (sometimes referred to as “shuttle diplomacy”) – there is no direct interaction between the parties, and often not between the attorneys either. Evaluative mediators frequently challenge each side about the weaknesses of his or her case, warn of the costs of trial, and offer predictions regarding the outcome of litigation to try to induce settlement.

Facilitative Mediation also seeks to achieve a settlement of the legal issues involved, but is less directive, attempting to facilitate an agreement upon the parties own volition, as its name suggests. The parties (and attorneys if present) typically meet face to face in a facilitative mediation session, however, the parties might be encouraged to talk to the mediator rather than directly to one another. The facilitative mediator typically begins by laying out ground rules for the session, which may include staying on topic, being respectful, not letting emotions get in the way. The facilitative mediator guides the conversation throughout the meeting, and might offer options for compromise or suggest what possible outcomes might be if parties do not settle.

Transformative Mediation is non-directive by definition; its mediators are trained to notice and curb their directive impulses. Transformative Mediation addresses the conflict itself, utilizing techniques designed to break the destructive cycle of conflict, after which solutions or “settlements” of the outer issues naturally follow. It is not guided by the outcome-based goal of obtaining a settlement (however, it does achieve high settlement rates); but the process-based goal of supporting the parties in having a conversation and making their own decisions whenever possible.

The transformative model encourages direct conversation, but can also be successful even if parties are not comfortable meeting face to face for any reason. Unlike other models which are focused on settling legal issues, the transformative model has broad applicability for conflicts in all arenas, whether there is the potential for court involvement or not.

If this post just raised more questions than it answered, or if you want to learn more about transformative mediation, check back for the next installment in the Transformative Mediation Series!

End-of-Life Planning in the News

March 20th, 2012 by Anna Hagstrom

On its program The Daily Circuit, MPR recently discussed “Preparing your end of life plan”. The guest highlighted the importance of this type of planning from his perspective as a physician and health policy expert. He also noted the cultural barriers to discussions of death, which can make us put off this type of planning – paralleling my previous post. Even though these are difficult discussions to have, they are extremely important especially as technology improves and there are more decisions to be made, for example to allow for a natural death. As an integral part of an Estate Plan, I walk clients through preparing a Health Care Directive providing instructions to loved ones and caregivers.

Health Care Directives can include a variety of information depending on what is important to you, such as burial or cremation preference, religious views surrounding death, hopes and fears for health care, wishes for treatment or discontinuing life support. This step can ensure that you receive the care that you desire and also help loved ones know that any decisions they make are in line with your values. The importance of end-of-life planning is widely recognized, and is part of the estate planning package that I provide to my clients to ensure that your loved ones are able to carry out your wishes and to ease their burden as much as possible.

Latest Blog Post

Article Featured in ‘With Equal Right’

January 14th, 2013 by Anna Hagstrom

I’m honored to have been asked to write a feature article for With Equal Right, the quarterly publication of Minnesota Women Lawyers, on the topic of Generations in the Workplace.  I focused on how my generation of law school graduates is Redefining Success – in light of the various challenges we are facing.  Read the… (Read more…)