This is adapted from the script of my TEDx Talk in October, 2016.
I am an integrative lawyer.
Did you cringe when I said “lawyer”? Did you think I must be about to tell you about someone I’ve dominated and destroyed? Calling a lawyer is what you do when enlightenment fails, when you want to beat someone up, right?
If you are not a lawyer, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with me? Consider this: Law is like the DNA of a society. It is the thread that winds through our lives and communities, providing a structure for our relationships. Law is how we design, maintain, repair, and heal our relationships. Law sets the rules of how we live together. Law tells us who we can marry, when that marriage is over, that we should stop at the red light, that there are consequences when we break our agreements. It reflects the values of society and defines our rights and responsibilities to each other.
And if that is not enough to get your attention, more than half of all politicians are lawyers.
I’m a different kind of lawyer. I’m going to tell you about a movement in law that is more conscious and compassionate, but first I will tell you my story.
I went to law school because I wanted to be a change agent. I was 29 years old, raising a passel of children in a blended family. I was politically active and law school seemed to be a place where I could find the tools and power to make a difference.
Then, I almost didn’t become a lawyer at all. Especially after I went to law school, I thought that all lawyers were jerks. I had a lot of evidence that my opinion was true. If you’ve ever spent much time in a courthouse, you’ll understand. I thought that lawyers were unhappy and argumentative and they spread misery. It is true that the legal profession has very high rates of suicide, stress, and addiction. The lifestyle is pretty dysfunctional.
After I graduated from law school, I passed two bar exams, just to show I could, and then I put my law degree and bar membership in a closet and ignored them. Instead, I worked in nonprofits and I immersed myself in the work of Landmark Education. I was all about interconnectedness -peace, love, and understanding – trying to do some good in the world. If anyone asked about my law degree, I was happy to tell them how horrible lawyers were and how the legal system was broken. I complained a lot and figured that I couldn’t make a difference so I would just go away and do something else.
A few years later, I was in a course called Wisdom Unlimited, about how we could take our personal transformation into the world and make a difference. A distinguished man stood up and introduced himself to the room. Forrest Bayard said he was a lawyer who focused on granting dignity to everyone in the legal process. As a divorce lawyer, it was his goal that the parents, (his client and their ex), could be friends at the end of the process, so they could raise their children together. As he continued to talk about how his personal transformation was the foundation of his law practice, a new world opened for me.
You know those movies where everything goes from black and white to color? The birds sing, the flowers burst into bloom, and the world becomes a bright and beautiful place? That is what happened to me that day. I realized that it was possible to be a lawyer and not be a jerk. I wanted to be that kind of peacemaking lawyer!
A few months later, I opened my law practice. At that point, I didn’t know how to be a lawyer unless I went to court. That’s what lawyers do, right? I tried to grant dignity to all, even as I was immersed in trials. I soon discovered that being a lawyer who helped parents be friends was easier said than done, but I thought I was muddling through.
Then, I started to notice what was happening after the trials. Being a trial lawyer was a fun game, for me. I won a lot, actually most of the time. I enjoyed matching wits, coming up with creative strategies. But it wasn’t a game. It hurt my clients and their children.
Trials didn’t resolve anything, in fact they usually made it worse. Even when my clients won, they told me it was the most awful experience they’d ever had. One client said she’d give up her children rather than go to court again. She was serious. It had been that bad for her.
I might have quit, but having met Forrest, I knew something else was possible.
I called him for help. It was the mid-1990s and there were a lot of new ideas emerging. Forrest told me about a lawyer in Minneapolis, Stu Webb, who had created a peacemaking and problem-solving divorce process called Collaborative Law. In Collaborative Law, the husband and wife and their two lawyers, would all sign a contract, committing to resolve the divorce without court. They approached the divorce as a family, trying to resolve how to go forward in two houses instead of one.
I also found a [then] relatively new approach called Mediation where a neutral facilitator helped clients listen to each other, talk through their issues, and come up with an agreement.
Law school had trained me to fight. It hadn’t trained me to make peace. All my personal transformation work was looking inward.
How did I take my desire to be a peacemaker and healer into the legal profession? I had to find a way to be me and still be a lawyer.
I tried a lot of things. Some worked, others didn’t. I started calling myself a Lawyer-Peacemaker and I reclaimed the term, Counselor at Law. I hired a social worker and counselor to work in my office, along with the regular legal staff. I went to court a lot less and eventually stopped doing trial work at all. We even feng-shiued our office.
Back then, I was the weirdest lawyer in my town..and a lot of other towns as well. Once, I remember going to a bar association meeting. At lunch, we were asked to introduce ourselves to the folks sitting at our tables of 8. I introduced myself as a peacemaker, working to make law a healing profession. Seven people (the whole rest of the table) suddenly saw someone they knew across the room. They got up and found other places to sit. They left me sitting there alone.
If I wanted to create a different way of practicing, I knew I needed allies. I needed to find my tribe.
A colleague told me about an organization called the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers, IAHL. I arranged to attend their next conference.
I thought I was hot stuff, cutting edge, that I would go to the IAHL conference and impress them with all my new ways of peacemaking. Instead, I showed up at the conference and found out just how conventional I was. What a diverse group of lawyers!
Innovative law professors and collaborative lawyers were joined by energy healers and lawyers using yoga poses to transform clients’ conflicts. They meditated together. They even held hands and sang. It was 1999. I was from a small town in North Carolina and I was pretty shocked. At that point in my narrow life, I thought they were just too weird.
But there was something about them. They were so outside-the-box that they’d moved into a new paradigm. They were happy, self-expressed, and full of possibility. I wanted more of what they had. I joined the organization.
Community gives us courage. After I met those holistic lawyers, I got bolder. I became a collaborative lawyer and a mediator. My divorce clients did remain friends with their exes. I learned about restorative justice. As an RJ facilitator, I worked with families of murder victims as they prepared to go face to face with the one who had killed their loved one and I worked with those who had killed those loved ones, to effectively communicate their remorse, and apologize.
I started to really love my law practice and my clients. It was transformational healing work. I facilitated some of life’s most intimate moments, creating and dissolving important relationships. I held a lot of hands and listened to a lot of heartbreak. I celebrated a lot of milestones. My personal transformation work provided a foundation for my work with clients. It helped me to be better at what I did.
I continued to stretch myself and I began to consider a bigger role. I wondered if I could go from small town lawyer to a changemaker and leader in the broader world.
I had experienced the difference that meeting Forrest had made for me. I gained courage from knowing that I was not alone, and I sensed that there were others out there who felt alone. I decided to make it my mission to seek out and connect lawyers who were bringing peacemaking and healing to law.
In 2008, I gave up my house and office to travel as a nomad on behalf of my mission. I began by videotaping lawyers for my Cutting Edge Law website. They caught the attention of an editor at the American Bar Association and I was invited to write a book for the ABA. The editor told me, “We knew that law was growing in this direction but we had no idea it was growing so quickly.” Of course, I agreed to write the book and I filled it with stories about the lawyers I’d been meeting, showcasing their depth, breadt, and diversity.
The ABA is the most mainstream of all legal organizations. And, the book became an immediate ABA best seller. We were no longer just the weird lawyers. We were pioneers! Having the book opened doors for me to speak to law schools, bar associations and law societies around the world.
These days, I say I am a coach, trainer, and author, but I’m really a connector. I connect lawyers with each other. I’ve now been around the world several times. I’ve learned that evolution in law is happening everywhere.
I encounter a lot of lawyers. People send them to me. Daily, I get emails. Several times a week, I have Skype calls. They happen to sit next to me on planes. When I speak, lawyers often come up to me. The message is the same: “I thought I was the only one! I thought I was alone.” And I bring them into the fold.
We now call ourselves integrative lawyers. I am one of the global leaders in the movement to transform law and the ABA has published my second book.
We still aren’t as visible as the lawyers you see on courtroom dramas. Many lawyers are still working in traditional law practices, thinking that being a jerk is the only way. But change is happening. A new consciousness is emerging and lawyers are part of it.
Mindfulness has spread across the legal profession. Most law schools and a lot of bar associations now have some kind of meditation program – for stress, you know. Lawyers are being trained in neuroscience, emotional intelligence, compassion, and empathy.
As lawyers are stepping out of the old paradigm, they are inventing new models and approaches for practicing.
Integrative lawyers practice in many ways. I’ve already mentioned Collaborative Law, which has now expanded to be interdisciplinary and is called Collaborative Practice.
You may now know about Restorative Justice, and mediation in your own community. There are many other new approaches like:
- Conscious Contracts in business law.
- Earth Jurisprudence which recognizes that we are all interconnected and that Nature has rights.
- Sharing Law for the sharing economy.
- Drug Treatment Courts which focus on helping people to get off drugs and become productive members of society, instead of locking them up.
And there are so many more approaches. We share values like compassion, interconnectedness, peace, and LOVE.
As I travel around the world, I tell the stories of the lawyers who are transforming ourselves and incorporating our transformation into the legal profession. We are building the new legal system for the new more integrative, conscious society.
There are over a million lawyers in the US alone. Twice that in the world. What if all lawyers were peacemakers, problem-solvers and healers of conflicts? What if we were all changemakers?