What is Integrative Law? The Emergence of a New Legal System
By J. Kim Wright
Recently, there has been a lot of attention on lawyers and meditation. Several people have asked me to talk about how meditation is related to the Integrative Law movement. I have a book coming out that covers that topic later this year. [It is in the editing process with the American Bar Association and is tentatively entitled Lawyers as Changemakers, the Emerging International Integrative Law Movement]. It seems that the topic is alive now and rather than wait for the book, I have written this to answer some of the questions and to share with the broader community.
Who am I to say?
A lot of people use the term Integrative Law, so who am I to define it? I think it is a fair question. Many people reading this may not know me at all.
In early 2008, I gave up my home-base and law practice to travel around the world. In retrospect, I could say that I have been on a very long listening tour. At the beginning of my journey, I’d been licensed as a lawyer for 19 years. In my practices, I had sought out the most innovative peacemaking and healing approaches to law, and I knew I was not alone. Intuitively I began my journey by finding the other lawyers who were practicing differently. For the first two years of my journey, I interviewed and videotaped pioneers and trailblazers in the movement. There are hundreds of clips from those interviews at my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/cuttingedgelaw
Since 2009, I have provided web space for this conversation through my site at www.cuttingedgelaw.com and before that, through being a founder of the Renaissance Lawyer Society and author of the RLS website. I’ve coached lawyers and I’ve worked with institutions. I am the one people call when they’re upset (or celebrating) and I have listened to the commitments behind the emotions.
In 2010, the American Bar Association published my first book, Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law. It was a hit, becoming one of the ABA best sellers in pre-orders. It struck a note with many lawyers and allowed me to expand my inquiry on what might be the world’s longest book tour. I have crisscrossed the US several times, then began traveling internationally. I have met thousands of lawyers, and I have integrative lawyer friends on every inhabited continent. I visited law schools, universities, law societies, and even had tea with a high court justice in South Africa. In 2011, I convened a gathering of lawyers who were practicing in many new ways, and the group consensus was to call the movement, “Integrative Law.” I facilitated inquiries about this movement and how it was evolving in dozens of communities. As restorative circle trainer Dominic Barter describes such encounters, I went into each conversation with a willingness to be changed. And I have been changed, as have my ideas.
Thus, my point of view has been informed by many others. I have a unique view of a movement that is evolving around the world. I’ve seen the same evolution in many countries, among different practice areas, and across disciplines.
Legal Reform and Renewal: The Beginning
When the American Bar Association asked me to write Lawyers As Peacemakers, I was excited about restorative justice, collaborative law, therapeutic jurisprudence, and other new models of law. Professor Susan Daicoff’s research had indicated that there was a tripartite crisis in the legal profession: low levels of lawyer well-being, public reputation, and civility. Lawyers in the new models were in better shape than their colleagues, and many of us thought we’d found the answers to the crises. In those days, it was common to talk about legal reform or legal renewal.
A lot of people still focus on changing the existing system. They are working hard to find ways to improve it and often are doing very good work. I have begun to see my work as being the midwife to the new legal system, assisting in the birth of something that integrates the best of the old system with what is evolving, including the discoveries of science and society’s shifting values. For me, this goes beyond reform and renewal to transformation. It is about how we can learn to live together, to have peaceful self-expression for everyone. It is about bringing our whole selves and allowing our clients to do the same, meeting multiple needs.
In my travels, I’ve observed that there is a lot more to the transformation of the legal profession than just adopting another model. I have encountered many collaborative lawyers who had not made the paradigm shift, who took the collaborative procedures into the four-way meetings without also bringing the collaborative mindset. The same was true of how some people approached restorative justice and the other models. While I previously thought the key was peacemaking, I met litigators who had clearly transformed their lives and practices in ways that felt integrative and evolutionary. There had to be more.
It wasn’t until I wrote my second book that the picture began to clear, so I allow that I may still be in the discovery stage. I want to share what I am seeing, in hopes that others will witness it with me and will have the courage to step into leadership in the emerging system.
Here are the pillars that appear to be the foundation for this movement.
- Integrative Lawyers are reflective.
They reflect on their motivations, their purposes, and the human condition. They bring those reflective skills to their work, and the world around them. They reflect as individuals and together, seeking a world that works for all. Integrative Lawyers tend to bring their whole selves (body, mind, soul, and emotions) to work together to create a better legal system. This is a group that likes personal growth and is spiritually curious. Many of us engage in contemplative practices such as meditation. I know litigators who are yogis and bring principles of balance from yoga into their trial practices. There are Buddhists and Hindus and Catholics and Muslims in this movement. We walk different paths with authenticity.
- Integrative lawyers are guided by purpose and values.
The values tend to be intrinsic, not extrinsic. Research has shown that the law school ethos tends to sway students toward the prestige of a big law partnership with its corner office. Integrative lawyers seek to align with important intrinsic principles that guide their lives and how they practice law. Integrative lawyers are inclined to believe that integrity is vital to the well-being of themselves and society. They encourage integrity in their clients’ matters. In the movement, some values tend to appear in a lot of lists. Love is a foundational value for a great number. Compassion, authenticity, openness, connection, harmony, transparency, accountability, trust, and healing are popular among this crowd.
- Integrative lawyers are design-thinkers and have a systemic view of the world.
Integrative Lawyers often have an experience of the interconnectedness of all things. They believe they are part of a system where each person has the power to make a difference. They recognize that society is becoming more complex and that it is necessary to embrace the complexity while seeking to make the law understandable and workable. Many of us are on a quest to find the pivot points where small change can lead to big shifts. We realize that there are many stakeholders in every conflict. We see that collaboration and cooperation are more workable than divisiveness and polarization. Integrative Lawyers default to collaborative approaches to problems, but are not afraid to take stands. We understand that full self-expression can lead to conflict, and that, when approached consciously, can be prevented or resolved in ways that are productive and preserve the relationships between all stakeholders. We don’t have to agree to be kind to each other and grant dignity to Life.
- Integrative lawyers are the harbingers of a new cultural consciousness and are leaders in social evolution.
Integrative Law isn’t just legal procedures. It has to do with a fundamental shift in world view and models that express the shift. Integrative Lawyers are leaders in an emergent worldview which honors the wisdom and best parts of all previous worldviews. They are open to exploring and drawing upon many disciplines and wisdom traditions, such as, philosophy, science, metaphysics, psychology, and spirituality. They bring this consciousness into the law and are partners with our colleagues in other disciplines.
From the four pillars, new models are arising. Many have recognized kindred spirits in pathfinders like Stu Webb and have been early adopters of models like Collaborative Law. Some bring this perspective to Restorative Justice and Therapeutic Jurisprudence. Conscious Contracts, Sharing Law, Earth Jurisprudence, Purposeful Estate Planning are among the ever expanding list of innovative approaches and practices for serving the needs of legal clients and legal professionals.
The process of evolution feels slow to those who envision a better world, but with consistency and determination, momentum can be reached. I compare it to riding a bicycle up a steep hill. We undertake that hill in our personal lives and in our practices. We may put in a lot of effort in the beginning, but eventually we reach a point where something shifts and we can move faster. Soon, we’re gliding down the hill, not sure why it took so much energy to get there.