Breyting is pioneering many new concepts, one of which is using collaborative law and value-based legal agreements to operate companies. Breyting has recently found itself in a dispute that is important to all socially conscious businesses because it will test Florida case law and hopefully prove there is a better way to operate companies and handle conflict. And that business partners can legally co-create their agreements and choose to:  

  • NOT hire attorneys
  • NOT file lawsuits for damages
  • NOT use the legal system to hurt one another
  • FOLLOW a conflict resolution process written by the partners
  • FOLLOW the partners values and instructions for how they treat each other

It's helpful to remember the conventional legal system tells us what we can't do but doesn't tell us what is possible. Fred and Von worked with a collaborative law practitioner to co-create their agreement. Then they hired an attorney with experience litigating contracts to check case law and ensure the partners are not getting into trouble with the larger system. Furthermore, the operating agreement is not designed to be used in court to argue for damages.

Instead, the agreement is written to maintain the partners' friendship and further a relationship that endures change, withstands, and transforms conflict. As part of the partner's agreement, the operating agreement includes a conflict resolution process that offers a path for their partnership to get back into alignment and win-win outcomes, even if that outcome is parting ways.

Little history

Von Coven founded Breyting to raise support and awareness to remove unexploded bombs from Southeast Asia and contributed 14 years of unpaid labor to bring Breyting to where it is today. He brought in his dear friend Fred Schneider of the B-52s as a funding partner with the understanding that they would leave the entire company to a non-profit that would be established to benefit their heirs and society. This fact has been stated on Breyting's website for over 5 years (see our Values page) and in our action plans since its founding.

Before Fred became the frontman of the world's greatest party band, the B-52s, his ambition was to be an environmental conservationist, which is why Fred agreed to come on this journey with Von so he could have a legacy outside of his music and fulfill the part of him that wants to give back. Fred created over 50 limited edition products and a video campaign to give 1/3 back to social good with the money raised from his products, causes that Fred picked.

So, what changed?

Amidst Fred's battle with cancer, a family member took advantage of the situation and orchestrated a team, including lawyers, to dismantle the partnership without any valid grounds. They showed no intention of finding a solution or working with Breyting to ensure its longevity. This team is now reneging on the promise to convert Breyting into a non-profit and refusing to honor the financial obligations to the people, vendors, artists, and non-profits involved.

This family member made untrue claims of fraud and manipulated Fred into signing over half of Fred's estate under the disguise of protecting him.

Fred, in his own words, expressed his anguish, "It's hard to explain. I've given (name withheld) half of the house, my house, and apartment, and he holds it over my head and says he can have me thrown out and just bulldozes me in a way I can't deal with. Believe me, I'm devasted"

Equally perplexing, Fred's attorneys refuse to allow Fred to use the thoughtful conflict resolution process that Fred and Von created together in their agreement. This process starts with Fred and Von having coffee and discussing the issues. Their agreement forbids the use of attorneys to represent them at all. However, the partners can have legal advisers. The agreement states, "We don't want to be protected from each other," yet Fred's attorneys prohibit them from talking.

The agreement spells out exactly how to handle conflict and close the partnership. Nothing has been left to chance or for the courts to decide except that the two friends never planned for one of them to refuse to show up and have coffee --D'oh. This led to Breyting threatening to file a lawsuit to ask the courts to force Fred and Von to have coffee and start the conflict resolution process. However, instead of Fred showing up, he sent 5 attorneys.

So why bring awareness to this conflict?

Because Breyting has been a part of a movement that promotes value-based agreements (collaborative law). Breyting has been in many books, discussions, blogs, and speaking to university students advocating for their use. People and businesses followed and used Breyting's best practices. Now, the very foundation of this type of non-adversarial operating agreement is being challenged by Fred's attorneys.

Instead of being advisers to Fred, as the agreement states, Fred's attorneys are demanding that each partner have legal representation. This is not at all what collaborative law is. It is exactly what Fred and Von agreed not to do—give over their power to people who are not trained to resolve conflict.

Conventional attorneys only know how to win, lose, or force you into a settlement, and why Fred's attorneys are trying to use the courts to dissolve the partnership instead of Fred and Von having coffee and following their agreement. 

As per the partner's agreement, Von remains devoted to following their established conflict resolution processes, which stipulates having coffee and the involvement of an impartial mediator with expertise in collaborative law to facilitate this mediation for the partners. 

As a society and business owners, we must learn how to resolve conflict without harming each other. Stay tuned.

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