Above: Fred Glassman teaches a legal mediation class at Emory’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Photo by Mark Woolsey.

Fred Glassman has had a profound conversion. Not of the religious variety, but more that of a both legal and humanistic nature. His new belief: contentious showdowns should be replaced by collaboration and head-butting should give way to “two heads are better than one.”

The 79-year-old Georgia resident emerged from UCLA law school to craft a high-profile legal career in Los Angeles based on the more traditional “I win-you-lose” approach of the profession, founding his own firm and handling sports and entertainment, then family law. Glassman said his common-sense Midwestern roots (shaped by his childhood in small-town Iowa) served him well as he handled divorce cases for such luminaries as boxer Muhammed Ali and author Harold Robbins.

Glassman recalled that his very first split-up battle involved NBA basketball great Elgin Baylor. Glassman said he had done some legal work for Baylor in the restaurant business then “one day he called me up and said, ‘my wife filed for divorce and I want you to represent me’. I said, ‘I’ve never done a divorce’ and he said, ‘just ask your colleagues what you need to know.’”

Glassman said he did about 2,500 divorces in total, for many years utilizing the then-standard legal framework. “I did litigation because that was the only way people could get a divorce,” he said. “That was before mediation and collaborative law.”

Not all cases were knock-down drag-outs. He recalls handling Ali’s divorce from wife Veronica in the mid-1980s. “He was very considerate about his wife Veronica’s well-being and that of the children. I never knew that someone with all that fame and glory could be so down to earth,” Glassman said.

Still, the frequently adversarial nature of the proceedings caused consternation.

“It always bothered me because I’d come home after being in court and my wife would ask me how I did, and I had a hard time answering the question. I’d think, ‘Did I extract more support from some spouse than what was deserving or made sense? Or did I get somebody to pay less (than was proper or deserving)?’

“I thought there must be a better way.”

Turns out there was. The concept of mediation emerged, with a neutral person representing both parties. Glassman saw that some cases were ripe for mediation and he tried to get his clients to travel that route whenever appropriate.

Then along came collaborative law. It’s a legal framework in which both parties in a dispute hire attorneys, but the lawyers formally agree not to go to court.

As Glassman explained it: “That changes the dynamics of the negotiations. If an attorney can’t take a case to court, they’re forced to sit down and work out a settlement.” The back-and-forth becomes interest-based instead of positional and adversarial.”

He added that if an attorney knows that whatever is said or what documents are prepared won’t wind up in some adversarial forum “you have more incentive to let it flow and you’re not afraid it will come back to bite you.”

The process pays dividends, he said, so much so that it’s now enshrined in a uniform statute in 19 states. Georgia is not one. But he hastened to add that Georgia has a collaborative law association and that it can still be practiced here if the parties ink a private agreement.

The framework avoids the uncertainties of a court proceeding but does call upon the kind of folks that might otherwise be courtroom witnesses. A financial expert might be brought in to discuss cash flow. A mental health professional might work as a communications coordinator. A child development specialist can render assistance as the needs any children are examined.

As he switched from contentious litigation for the first 35 or so years of his practice to doing some 500 family collaborative law cases in the last 10 to 15 years, Glassman’s horizons altered drastically. Colleagues say he was a pioneer in using the legal method and in fostering its wider use.

Teaching at OLLI

Retiring from the firm he founded in 2018 and moving to Georgia to be with his daughter and granddaughter, Glassman proceeded to pick up where he left off.

The retired barrister took a class at Emory’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He subsequently met its director, who asked him if he’d be interested in teaching a law class. “Don’t Hate, Collaborate,” a course in collaborative law, was born, debuting to good reviews. Glassman planned another this fall that is shaping up to be double the size of his spring class.

While Glassman used collaborative methods in divorce cases, he said it’s creeping into other kinds of civil disputes.

“It’s particularly used in cases where there will be a continuing relationship between the disputants” is how he puts it. “Say it’s a dispute between a university and faculty member, or an employer-employee type of thing.”

Glassman has had other crown jewels in his career, such as arranging the George Forman and Ken Norton 1974 heavyweight fight in Venezuela, (the first such event staged in that country) but now focuses on furthering collaboration.

Not content simply showcasing the concept at various legal forums and conferences, he plans to work with the Georgia collaborative group toward getting a statute on the books here.

He hopes it resonates with lawmakers as it did with those in his first Emory class last spring. “It was brand new to people. They hadn’t heard about it and thought it made a lot of sense.”

Avatar photo

Mark Woolsey

Mark Woolsey is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.