Real Property Law

Cal. Real. Prop. Journal 2018, VOL. 36, NO. 1

It’s Never Just About the Trees: Empowering Clients to Resolve Tree and Neighbor Disputes Collaboratively

Barri Kaplan Bonapart

Practicing law for over 32 years, Barri Kaplan Bonapart is nationally recognized as a tree and neighbor law specialist. A graduate of Boalt Hall, Ms. Bonapart practiced complex commercial litigation before opening Bonapart & Associates in 1997. She authored Understanding Tree Law: A Handbook for Practitioners (2014), and speaks to various groups including attorneys, mediators, arborists, and appraisers.

Is there any area of law more contentious than neighbor disputes? The answer is, yes, neighbor disputes about trees! Why is that? What is it that otherwise intelligent, levelheaded, clear-thinking, individuals verge on the criminally insane, harboring malicious or even homicidal thoughts, when it comes to disagreements over trees? Even family law practitioners who deal with what would seem to be the most acrimonious and contentious of issues will admit that divorce law can pale by comparison to the Hatfield and McCoy-like world of tree law. At least in family law, they remind us, one party usually moves away.

This article explores tips and strategies to help clients resolve their matters by identifying, understanding, and defusing the psychological underpinnings that often plague these disputes. Warning: there will be no discussion of the black letter law here. The laws and precedent pertaining to tree disputes are already available to practitioners. Instead, these next few pages offer a unique approach toward problem solving, starting with the proposition that attorneys are, first and foremost, "counselors at law." This socially responsible philosophy reminds us that law, like medicine, can and should be a healing profession.

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