Healing & the Law

Healing and the Law

Since the mid 1980's organizations and movements have developed in the United States which reflect a desire to transform the practice of law into a healing, helping profession. There is growing international interest in this; it started country by country, including Canada, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Thailand and Sri Lanka, and now is worldwide through the Therapeutic Jurisprudence movement (bringing psychology into the training of lawyers and the practice of law) and other initiatives.

A landmark book that supported the movement was TRANSFORMING PRACTICES, by Steve Keeva, an editor of the American Bar Association. Sobering statistics in it, for example that the rate of suicide among lawyers was higher than for any other profession in the US and that the majority of lawyers in California would not encourage their children to be lawyers, confirmed the concern that pervaded the profession. As part of recognition of the problem, the American Bar Association worked with state bar associations to create offices or sections in state bar associations to support lawyers facing depression or addiction. Thos sections or programs are now well established. Mr. Keeva's book, and others around that time, encouraged lawyers to slow down, to keep the big picture, the overall well-being of their clients in mind. Lawyers were encouraged to use methods like meditation to calm their minds and be fully present for their clients. By 2000, some law firms and non-profit organizations were sponsoring meditation retreats for lawyers.

Among the organizations that sprung into existence from the 1980's to 2000 were the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers, the Renaissance Lawyers Society, and the Project on Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics. National and international conferences and retreats sponsored by these organizations and others fostered networks of like-minded lawyers, law professors and judges who were looking for better ways for law training, law practice and the judicial system to serve society and provide for the overall well-being of the law practitioner. In 2001 I heard from a law professor that in his experience, students were going to law school because they were idealistic and wanted to do something to help society, but because of the system of law training, most law students by end of the first semester had set their ideals aside in order to get through the law education process. Many intended to return to their ideals on graduation, but by then perceived financial and professional pressures prevented that. Another law professor who was a psychiatrist did a study of effects of law school on law students and found that by the end of the third semester, ½ way through, they are put down their emotions and were completely in their "head" caught in the training to plan the best response to anyone else's position. She noted that losing contact with emotions is the definition of depression. It is also generally known that loosing contact with emotions means one cannot feel the emotions of the other and that means one is not able to be empathetic. People can readily sense if someone is empathetic. The lack of empathy resulting from the rigors of law training in the second half of the 1900's, I believe is an important factor in the widespread public disparagement of the profession, and the feeling of being unsafe that many feel when required to interact with a lawyer.

However that is all changing in a very wonderful way. Among the movements to bring the concept of healing and transformation of the profession to law students, in about the year 2000, law faculty in the United States created an organization called Humanizing Legal Education, which then became a section of the Association of American Law Schools called Balancing Legal Education, with the objective of transforming law school curricula to include philosophy, psychology and deep ethics.

Before these developments, the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, based in Canada, started arranging bi-annual meetings to bring together physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers, law professors and judges to look at how the legal system and the practice of law functioned from a therapeutic and mental health point of view. Thos meetings are held all over the world. The 31st Annual Meeting was at New York University Law School from June 29 to July 4, 2009. By then the Therapeutic Jurisprudence movement had connected with the International Academy of Law and Mental health and many of the presenters were active in that movement and some came from the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers. The movement for Therapeutic Jurisprudence integrates law and psychology. As a result of these activities and others, Susan Daicoff, on the faculty of Florida Coastal University, created the concept and phrase, Comprehensive Law Movement, to include all the aspects, organizations and lawyers involved in this transformative process. This has now come to be called Integrative Law.

Among the other movements which have been impacting the legal system, and which grew out of the desire for a healthier legal process, are the collaborative law movement, founded by Atty. Stu Webb in Minneapolis, MN. This is now expanded from family law to commercial matters. In collaborative law the lawyers help opposing sides reach agreement and failing that are not available for litigation. Another movement is the restorative justice movement, which opened the door for healing between victim and offender and for more flexibility in sentencing. The Restorative Justice movement has brought the concept of healing into the criminal justice system by setting up processes for the defendant and victim to interact in a safe environment in the course of determining sentencing or during incarceration--with the result that the victim sees the defendant assuming responsibility and also may receive the healing benefit of an apology.

Sentencing circles, based on ancient practice of indigenous people of Canada, were introduced the Boston, Massachusetts juvenile justice system early this century. They allowed for the victim, convicted juvenile defendant, parents or respected elders, and lawyers to sit in a circle and reach agreement on the sentence recommendation to the judge. In this process healing of the victim could occur through the defendant taking responsibility. The nature of our criminal justice system, where the state steps in to prosecute, the victim is not in control of any part of that process, and the defendant is encouraged by the nature of the process to deny culpability, is not conducive to the defendant taking responsibility or to the victim being fully seen and receiving healing communication.

Compatible with these developments has been the growth in Alternative Dispute Resolution, especially mediation, and also arbitration. Part of the shift to Alternative Dispute Resolution has resulted from the backlog of courts, and the high cost of litigation. It is generally understood that 85% to 90% of cases settle before judgment. Many of these settle through mediation, which enables parties to speak directly to each other and solve their disagreements in a safe atmosphere before a neutral party. It is confidential, and the parties may meet together with the mediator or they may be separated into private caucuses with the mediator. The mediator is not there as a judge, rather as a facilitator. The resolution typically will be crafted by the parties, not decided by the mediator. Mediation has become much more popular in many countries around the world. There are many mediation training programs for lawyers and for others in society and interest in allowing the mediation process to be transformative, that is effect a change in the parties' relationship. Mediation is the norm in some states for commercial and family litigation. In New York, the Federal District Courts and the New York State Supreme Courts, Commercial Divisions in and around New York City have mandatory mediation programs where cases are referred to mediators who are on court approved mediator panels. Mediation in other states is being offered, or parties are being required to consider it, before court systems will proceed to judicial determination. Teenagers are trained in Peer Mediation to resolve conflicts in schools. (Arbitration is more like the court process in that arbitrators make a decision that binds the parties, and there is a formal discovery process governed by the applicable arbitration rules and the decisions of the arbitrators.)

There is increasing awareness in the legal profession of the benefits of techniques for law professionals, especially mediators, to be fully present. Those techniques involve calming the mind through various forms of meditation and contemplative practice and through education programs that teach legal professionals how the brain works and a basic understanding of psychology, including what is transference, and how do we really perceive things? It is an exciting time of change in our profession and I feel especially fortunate that my personal interests in mediation, meditation, healing and psychology, (www.HansenHealing.com) are in alignment with current developments in the legal profession.

These movements are part of the growing national and international awareness that a healthy balance is needed in the professions, the business world and our economic systems in order to support a healthy and sustainable society on this planet.

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