New Breed of Integrative Lawyers (Reprint from Canada Lawyers Weekly)
This article was published in the Canadian Lawyers Weekly in June, 2012. PDF of the actual article is attached.
Not long ago, I was speaking to a professional responsibility class at a law school in Ontario. The students were asked: Do you believe it is possible to make a difference in the world, earn a good living, and have a satisfying personal and professional life?
The looks on their faces spoke volumes. The answer was clearly no. “Two out of three?” I asked. A few hands went up, somewhat reluctantly.
It is unfortunate that we lawyers are among the most miserable people on the planet. Compared with the general public, lawyers have lower job satisfaction, higher rates of addiction, depression, divorce and just about any other measure of unhappiness. While lawyers are in personal crisis, the world economy is rocky and some of the global law firms are dissolving or merging. Women are leaving the profession in alarming numbers. The rise of the Internet allows the public to access information previously in the purview of only lawyers.
It can be a bleak picture. But with crisis comes opportunity. As old ways of practicing dissolve, new ways emerge. While many leave the profession to escape the crisis, others step forward to be innovators and pioneers.
One such pioneer, Natalie McFarlane, came back from maternity leave with a renewed sense of values and a commitment to create a law practice that fit her passions. She founded Positive Impact Law Group in Toronto to work with social entrepreneurs, those business people who see business as a vehicle for social change and whose bottom line is more than about profits. Her website states her purpose: “Relationship-based approach to law and legal services, for a collaborative and sustainable society.”
McFarlane is an example of the new breed of integrative lawyers. They are purpose-oriented; they have a broader view of their roles as lawyers, often seeing themselves as change agents.
Integrative law blends the human and the analytical. It incorporates ideas of positive psychology, authentic happiness, appreciative inquiry, integrative and holistic medicine, and system change theories. It is an approach that spans personal and systemic change. From the personal level, it includes self-awareness and multidisciplinary wellbeing. It includes providing broader services that are focused on client needs and values.
New practice models are coming to the fore as lawyers strive to say yes to the question that began this article — to make a difference in the world, earn a good living, and have a satisfying personal and professional life. Grounded in the lessons of the alternative dispute resolution movement, some of the models and names are familiar and well-established.
For example, collaborative practice is a problem-solving, often multidisciplinary out-of-court model most often used in divorce. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals reports 575 members in Canada.
Many practices in restorative justice are based upon First Nations justice. It was first used in a North American juvenile court in 1974 in Kitchener, Ont. Canada now has four national restorative justice programs and more than more than seventy programs around the country. Other established integrative law models include various forms of mediation, therapeutic jurisprudence, and preventive law.
Some of the integrative law models are court-based that focus on solving underlying social problems (drugs, homelessness, domestic violence, etc.) and aim to restore the defendant to productive membership in society. Canada's first drug treatment court was established in Toronto in 1998. Vancouver established one in 2001.
Some of the models are less structured and more a reflection of the lawyer’s values and personality.
Yeti Agnew is known for her holistic approach in which she calls herself a Legal Sherpa and her Toronto practice “Law…with Understanding.” She focuses on listening, communicating and empowering her clients. On her website, Agnew emphasizes her use of plain english, pioneered by Vancouver’s Cheryl Stephens, an international leader of the plain language movement, which encourages writing legal documents that can be understood by end users, which is another integrative model.
Other practice models are less known but intriguing and innovative.
Visual contracting is an example of a creative response to the international and multilingual practice of law. It uses graphics to make contracts more understandable. Rogers Communications and Aliant were involved in a contract dispute based on one sentence with 45 words, and a comma that a court interpreted as meaning that Aliant could renegotiate the five year contract after only one year – as opposed to renegotiate with one year’s notice after the end of the five-year term. Resolved based upon English punctuation rules, the French translation held the opposite meaning. In visual contracting, the contract would be diagramed in a flow chart to encourage a clear and shared understanding.
Other intriguing integrative models include conscious entrepreneurship, earth jurisprudence, sharing law, and values-based contracts.
The new models are responsive to societal needs and changing values. Many are interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary in which lawyers become members of teams, not just authorities and gladiators. They seek win/win solutions that reflect and honor interconnectedness. Emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills and new conflict models, business practices and skills are needed. Many integrative lawyers have given up the billable hour.
Beyond the practice models, being an integrative lawyer is about integrating your life and law practice, about aligning your internal and external lives. It is about using your creative problem-solving skills to create a law practice that benefits you, your clients, and society.
J. Kim Wright is publisher and managing editor of CuttingEdgeLaw.com and author of Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law (American Bar Association).