From Pitbull to Peacemaker: Maureen Holland
After graduating from Vermont Law School, Maureen Holland worked for twelve judges as a judicial law clerk, though her goal was to become a trial lawyer. She admits she was trained to be aggressive. In her early years as a lawyer, she fought her cases with zealous advocacy, was stern on cross-examination and the only goal in sight was to win the case and an exorbitant amount of money.
Maureen’s perspective changed when she won a huge amount of money for a client, but he was still not happy. She realized that the way she practiced law was not consistent with the importance of humanity, civility, and peace. Very matter-of-factly, she says, “I changed my practice.” To make this change, Maureen looked to the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers, which taught a way of practicing law with civility at the forefront and used creative problem solving techniques. Kim Wright was creating the Renaissance Lawyer Society at the time, and Maureen also listened and learned in the legal classes Kim conducted. Spiritual teacher, Patricia Sun, was also a mentor to Maureen as an advocate for holistic healing.
Maureen began to pay more attention to her clients and their needs instead of assuming that litigation was the only way. Maureen points out that the primary purpose of cross-examination is to embarrass and run down a witness so that they will react negatively and strongly. And because of this reaction, their credibility is questioned. In reality, they have been humiliated and are angry. “Cross-examination is not about telling the truth. Humiliating and angering witnesses is not unethical, but a very standard practice. And I realized that this degrades people.”
Conflict is a symptom of the lack of connection and lack of interrelations between people. The dialogue between human beings needs to be restored. “I found that you can be positive, caring, compassionate and you’re not being derogatory, and you can be effective and win lawsuits and get things done.”
Maureen tells the story of one of her first experiences employing a non-aggressive approach: “I was representing a professional, and the lawyer told me that if I pursued this, they were going to run my client’s reputation into the ground. I decided to tell this lawyer that it was not my intention to run down his client. I wanted to find a solution. The other lawyer yelled the same thing, but louder this time. I repeated myself in a calm voice. Again, the lawyer repeated what he had said, but louder. I repeated myself. Then there was a pause. This time he said, ‘Let’s set up a proposal and we’ll talk about it.’ As long as I didn’t get nasty, there was a chance for a resolution.”
Another case in which communication was key was one regarding a family dispute over a will. “It had been going on for years, and everyone was so entrenched in their perspectives. The defendants weren’t willing to change. I showed up to talk to the clients and opposing lawyer. What I found was that the act of being genuinely listened to is what was satisfying to the client. The economic factors were not the driving force. I just listened, that’s all I did. The other lawyer had to leave, but asked I if I could just stay and talk to his clients. We came to a good understanding of how to solve the problem. Everyone just wanted their point of view to be heard. The other lawyer trusted me enough to leave his clients with me. Lawyers are taught that being zealous is the only way to get respect. Yet they get burn out because of the adversarial nature of law. If we can find a way of solving problems that don't burn out lawyers and a way to make them a part of the solution, then it turns out well for everyone.”
Since becoming a peacemaker, Maureen Holland has been recognized for her innovations in client service by the American Bar Association Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and Paul Harvey’s radio show. She has presented at the annual Gandhian Non-Violence conference and accompanied Patricia Sun to an international peace conference for women spiritual leaders.
Maureen Holland has also made an impact sitting as a Judge as well. “It was one of my first trials in general sessions court. I’ve learned what matters to clients and litigators. All I did was listen and pay attention. At the end of the trail, I announced my ruling. As everyone rose as I left the courtroom, they applauded, including the person I ruled against. I realized that I had carefully listened and then explained what the law was. The change that is surprising is that those people left the courtroom satisfied.” This is the goal, to promote understanding and communication so that everyone is happy with the outcome of a court case. Lawyers and judges must become problem solvers instead of perpetuating conflict.
According to Holland, “I have personally witnessed this shift. And other lawyers need to know about it.” When Kim Wright turned over the reins of Renaissance Lawyer Society, Holland became the Chairman of the Board.