HOLISTIC LAWYERS

                                                
By: Carolyn E. Hansen, Esq.*

                                                        Introduction


Lawyers in the United States are experiencing increased pressure to manage the demands of their profession and at the same time facing increased public resentment about the profession. In many cases the lawyers are unhappy being in the profession. Some are reluctant to tell people they are lawyers, anticipating a negative reaction.

In "Transforming Practices, Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life" a book published in 1999 by the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, author Steven Keeva reports on page 4 how "a California study showed a majority of lawyers saying that if they had the chance, they would not become lawyers again, and well over half said they would not recommend law as a career to their own children." He also reports on the next page about a "Johns Hopkins University study that looked at the incidence of depression among members of 105 different occupations. Lawyers topped the list." In the book, Keeva emphasizes the important of finding meaning in law practice.

Recent US Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Judge John Roberts, nominee for Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, reminds of the grand concepts of legal systems and at the same time the human struggle inherent in any system. Senators sought an indication of his views on abortion, the death penalty, integrated schools and other topics. In this endeavor they encountered his skill in analysis and articulation of the principle that the individual judge's views should not be a factor in the role---and his resultant refusal to answer most of the queries raised.

All members of the bar work in this tension of honoring and serving a legal system designed to benefit society, while at the same time dealing with the reality of being human and all that entails.

The question that Holistic Law raises is: "Is this is the best we can do?" Is there more that should be included in the training of lawyers and in the practice of law? How can more of what it means to be human; the divine aspects, the understanding of psychology, intuitive awareness, healing, peacebuilding and other abilities, also be utilized by our profession?

What is "Holistic Law"?


In American law schools we learn very well how to articulate and how to analyze. Other subjects, could foster depth and wisdom in the individual practitioner, such as deep ethics (not limited to the rules of practice), psychology and philosophy. Those subjects, so minimized in the typical US law schools, reflect the deep and full potential of the human. They can support the legal professional to move beyond being intellectually quick and articulate, to being the "wise elder of the tribe". We all know colleagues in the legal profession who are the wise elder.

Holistic Law fosters the "wise elder' in our profession. In response to this ideal, the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers (www.iahl.org) was founded in 1991.

Its Mission Statement is: "To transform the practice of law, though education and support of holistic practice."

Its Vision Statement is: "The IAHL envisions a world where lawyers are valued as healers, helpers, counselors, problem-solvers, and peacemakers. Conflicts are seen as opportunities for growth. Lawyers model balanced lives are respected for their contributions to the greater good."

Different Things to Different People

Attending the 1999 annual meeting of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers, was my first experience of connecting with practicing attorneys and law professors who, having a deep passion for the law, were creating ways to bring more than analysis and articulation into their work. Often this process includes a deep appreciation for the impact of the sacred in daily life; a code of ethics that reflects principles of spiritual practice. Holistic lawyers each have unique and individual ways to bring "holism" to the practice of law.

One of the speakers at the conference, a well-known Texas litigator and arbitrator who later spoke at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, openly talked of his spiritual practice and mentioned, on occasion, praying with clients before trial.

A criminal lawyer talked in another annual meeting of the IAHL about how he "sized up" his criminal clients. While he always defended them to the best of his ability, he also watched for signs of where the person might be getting tired of the role of "victim of the system". In such cases, he also supported them by referring them to reading materials, suggesting therapists, and supporting their evolution and healing.

I include my story as an example of how one progresses to being comfortable being labeled a "holistic lawyer".

Since the start of my career in January 1974, as international commercial counsel and later also counsel to non-profit organizations, I sought to prevent or reduce misunderstandings between my clients and other parties to prevent or minimize litigation. I settled claims when that appeared expeditious and right. I believe these to be typical functions of members of our profession and at the same time I could be a tough negotiator when needed. I also made sure that the language was clear in the commercial contracts and in negotiations that both sides understood the meaning of the terms; a "meeting of the minds." And, my counsel included pointing out where my client's had not handled things in the best way and advising them of how to proceed.

In 1997, by then having the "hobby" of teaching of Chan (Zen) meditation, I made an additional, private commitment to recognize that the people I represented and the parties with which I negotiated, were spiritual beings. I set my intention, while conscientiously fulfilling my role of providing advice and counsel to my clients, to foster the highest level of trust between my clients and parties they with whom they were doing business. At that time, leading an international law consultancy in Taiwan, catching and clearing misunderstandings due to cultural differences between my clients and these with whom they were dealing, was an important part of this service.
These unspoken intentions brought a deeper meaning to my work and further enhanced my relationships with all parties.

In 1998 I commenced studies of Asian philosophy about the energetic aspects of the human body and Western concepts in psychology and characterology. All of these support the healing of emotional, mental and physical challenges. My studies have had a subtle impact on my law practice. For example, I more empathetically relate to my clients and also understand how their perceptions may reflect their life experience. In 2001 I completed training as a mediator and added that to my client services.

What Belief Systems are Incorporated?

Holistic law incorporates a deep belief in supporting human potential in two ways: 1) by enabling clients to learn and grow from their legal conflicts and 2) by allowing lawyers to bring more of their abilities to their clients besides the abilities to analyze and articulate.

The physicians' oath typically includes the phrase "to do no harm". This simple phrase embodies the highest of ideals. I believe that many lawyers taking the oath of admission to the bar, "to uphold the law" also intend to operate at that level of high ideals. In 2002 I co-led a workshop at that Annual Meeting of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyer which explored the sacred nature of oaths, their history in our society, and how words physically and emotionally affect us. At the end of the workshop the lawyer participants were invited to write their personal oath, the oath that took them to law school. The personal oath typically gets subsumed in modern legal training and the stress of law practice. Then, one by one, we read our oaths out loud. All were moving and contained profound commitments to service and caring that went beyond the typical oath for bar admission. One was the singing of the popular song, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"!

The holistic lawyers I know, and those of other parts of this movement, like collaborative law, therapeutic jurisprudence and of other similar organizations are of all different faiths and spiritual practices and are all similar in their commitment to healing, conflict resolution and service.

Relationship to Traditional Law-Who Benefits and Who Not?

Holistic lawyers aggressively represent their clients, and at the same time, counsel them from a broad perspective. They encourage avoidance of litigation when it is not advisable, support alternative dispute resolution and foster the client's personal growth.

They do not take on the role of therapist to their law clients, but in discussion may raise questions or give suggestions that lead the clients to address issues they overlooked. These often are relationship and communication issues. They encourage clients to also avail themselves of other support systems.

Anyone can benefit from this approach. It is tailored to the individual and the matter at hand.

Is It More Suited in Some Areas---Are there Areas Where It Doesn't Work?

The principles of holistic practice can be used in all forms of law practice. Among holistic lawyers are those with litigation, arbitration, commercial law, matrimonial, family law and non-profit organization practices. How it is used depends on the attorney, the client and the matter at hand.

As example of the broad scope of this concept, which generally encompasses transformation of the legal profession, there are a number of organizations focusing on various aspects of law practice. Restorative Justice, www.restorativejustice.org, focuses in integrating into the criminal justice system concepts of healing that are reflective of tribal cultures. This includes sentencing circles, which allow the defendant to take responsibility, the victim to be heard and acknowledged and parents and advisors to be part of the process. Therapeutic Jurisprudence, www.therapeuticjurisprudence.org, looks at how the legal system affects emotional life and psychological well being,. It encourages use of empathetic listening and understanding of the psychological terms of transference and counter transference. Collaborative Law provides a system for lawyers to support their clients in seeking negotiated agreement. If the clients cannot attain this and litigation is to occur, lawyers for both parties step down. This method started in the matrimonial/family law field and is expanding to other areas of law. The International Academy of Collaborative Professions website is www.collaborativepractice.com

How Do Clients React? How Are They Part Of The Solution?

Some clients embrace the idea of having a holistic lawyer; others may choose not to seek it out or may be concerned at the ability of the holistic lawyer to aggressively represent them. In my opinion, lawyers who are able to see the big picture for their clients, and who have the capacity to relate to their clients empathetically, are holistic lawyers. They also tend to be greatly appreciated by their clients. Many of these lawyers may not use the term "holistic lawyer" to describe themselves, but they embody the concept.

To be "holistic" does not curtail an attorney's aggressive representation of the client. Nor does it mean that the client is not fully informed of their rights and available remedies. However, holistic lawyers offer additional levels of service. The holistic lawyer is fully present (taking in the client and the situation-not listening with one ear while planning a response) and is sensitive to the factors that the client may not be considering. Thereby, the holistic lawyer can both assist the client in making choices in the client's overall best interest, and also support the client, to the extent the client desires, to assume responsibility, change non-productive life patterns, peacefully resolving disputes and avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.

International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers

The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers is an established organizations of lawyers, law professors and judges who are supporting transformation of the legal profession. The underlying benefits of transformation are twofold: 1) to bring more meaning into the lives of the practitioners and 2) a greater depth of support to clients. This occurs by incorporating non-traditional methods of conflict resolution, expansion of lawyer's skills in the realm of the "wise elder."

While most of its members are located in the United States, legal professionals from other countries are welcome. The organization's website is www.iahl.org. Its next annual meeting will be at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, near Monterey, California, April 6 to 8, 2006.

2005, Carolyn E. Hansen

*Carolyn E. Hansen, Esq., is a practicing attorney in the Hudson Valley Region of New York State. She has a JD from the University of Michigan and a LL.M. (Cum Laude) from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. She has extensive international commercial and trade law experience as in-house counsel and from private practice in the US and Asia. Her practice includes representation of not-for-profit organizations. She can be reached at AttyHansen@earthlink.netm or (01) (845) 687-8440.

 

 




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