Jacinta Gallant is a highly experienced collaborative lawyer, mediator and conflict trainer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Having trained as a family lawyer, Jacinta tells me that, while she enjoyed the courtroom experience, “donning a gown and going off to do a performance”, she was uncomfortable with how the courtroom experience affected her clients. As a family lawyer, she didn’t feel it was right to take her clients, who were already going through a difficult separation or divorce, to the adversarial “war zone” of the courtroom. She discovered early in her career that, while she enjoyed the performance of litigation, it was not a healthy practice for her clients, and ultimately it wasn’t healthy for Jacinta either.
Deciding that it would be “socially irresponsible for me to keep just taking on a case and arguing it in the court”, Jacinta became a mediator, around the same time that other family lawyers were beginning to seek more collaborative approaches to helping families. She describes how many of the skills are transferable, with her mediation practice both informing and being informed by her work as a collaborative lawyer. Her law practice is now focused on helping families find a healthier way to reach agreement, and for the last eight years, Jacinta has achieved this exclusively out of the courtroom.
Jacinta joined MBBI because she was interested to extend her sense of how people are using mediation outside the family law field. She explains how, within the legal field, mediation can sometimes be more transactional, “narrowly focused on getting the deal done”. The value of organisations like MBBI is that Jacinta gets to collaborate with other professionals who really care about improving communities and families and “making things better for the world as a whole.”
Becoming productively curious
In 2017, Jacinta decided to take an even deeper dive into her mediation and conflict management practice. She began by studying the Insight Approach to conflict, developed by Cheryl Picard, a Canadian Professor of Conflict Studies. She credits Cheryl’s mentorship in helping her to move away from a somewhat fixed notion of what’s going on when people are in conflict, in order to begin “to get more and more productively curious.” She credits the insight approach as the thing which shifted her role as a mediator to one of engaging clients in productive dialogue, rather than directing them towards an outcome. For Jacinta, this “changed everything.”
At the same time, Jacinta began thinking about how she could better prepare her clients for going through mediation or a legal process as part of a divorce. This led her to create a workbook, called Our Family in Two Homes. The workbook aims to prepare clients for mediation through a series of reflections, questions and exercises to help clients better understand their conflict style and identify their values. Jacinta began by distributing this workbook to her own clients. After noticing a profound difference in how her clients responded to mediation engaging with the workbook, Jacinta realised “the value of supporting people who are going through a conflict process.”
“Do more asking, less telling”
In 2018, Jacinta decided to share her findings with others, highlighting the difference she had seen in her clients after having created the workbook. Although she initially “had no intention of becoming an expert,” other collaborative lawyers and mediators saw the real value in Jacinta’s work. And from there, her start-up has taken off. Now, Our Family in Two Homes has three workbooks: the original one, for people who are raising children; Our Family in a Few Homes, for couples who have adult children; and Designing our Future Together, for couples coming together who are in search of a prenup, marriage contract or even, Jacinta tells me, a “relationship refresh”. Not only this, but the workbooks have been customised to detail the law in 38 different legal jurisdictions across 9 countries, and in 3 different languages (work is ongoing on the fourth). Jacinta’s hope is that, as she expands the use of her workbooks in divorce and family disputes, she can partner with others to bring the workbook to a range of other issues.
For Jacinta, the workbook would not exist in its current form had she not studied the Insight Approach, and she is keen to emphasise its value to others. She tells me, “I was definitely late midcareer looking at an entirely new way of doing what I do, and it has changed everything.” She encourages others not to get too stuck on what she calls “the orthodoxy of the process” and to dedicate energy to being a lifelong learner, to learning for how to have more productive conversations and enhance engagement with the individuals that you’re trying to help.
I leave our conversation, baffled that such a valuable resource did not exist already, but hopeful that, with Jacinta’s help, we can better prepare our clients for mediation.
Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer