By: Carolyn E. Hansen, Esq.*
Lawyers in the United States are experiencing increased pressure to manage
the demands of their profession and at the same time facing increased
public resentment about the profession. In many cases the lawyers are
unhappy being in the profession. Some are reluctant to tell people they
are lawyers, anticipating a negative reaction.
In "Transforming Practices, Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal
Life" a book published in 1999 by the American Bar Association (ABA)
Journal, author Steven Keeva reports on page 4 how "a California
study showed a majority of lawyers saying that if they had the chance,
they would not become lawyers again, and well over half said they would
not recommend law as a career to their own children." He also reports
on the next page about a "Johns Hopkins University study that looked
at the incidence of depression among members of 105 different occupations.
Lawyers topped the list." In the book, Keeva emphasizes the important
of finding meaning in law practice.
Recent US Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Judge John Roberts, nominee
for Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, reminds of the grand concepts
of legal systems and at the same time the human struggle inherent in any
system. Senators sought an indication of his views on abortion, the death
penalty, integrated schools and other topics. In this endeavor they encountered
his skill in analysis and articulation of the principle that the individual
judge's views should not be a factor in the role---and his resultant
refusal to answer most of the queries raised.
All members of the bar work in this tension of honoring and serving a legal
system designed to benefit society, while at the same time dealing with
the reality of being human and all that entails.
The question that Holistic Law raises is: "Is this is the best we
can do?" Is there more that should be included in the training of
lawyers and in the practice of law? How can more of what it means to be
human; the divine aspects, the understanding of psychology, intuitive
awareness, healing, peacebuilding and other abilities, also be utilized
by our profession?
What is "Holistic Law"?
In American law schools we learn very well how to articulate and how to
analyze. Other subjects, could foster depth and wisdom in the individual
practitioner, such as deep ethics (not limited to the rules of practice),
psychology and philosophy. Those subjects, so minimized in the typical
US law schools, reflect the deep and full potential of the human. They
can support the legal professional to move beyond being intellectually
quick and articulate, to being the "wise elder of the tribe".
We all know colleagues in the legal profession who are the wise elder.
Holistic Law fosters the "wise elder' in our profession. In response
to this ideal, the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers was founded in 1991.
Its Mission Statement is: "To transform the practice of law, though
education and support of holistic practice."
Its Vision Statement is: "The IAHL envisions a world where lawyers
are valued as healers, helpers, counselors, problem-solvers, and peacemakers.
Conflicts are seen as opportunities for growth. Lawyers model balanced
lives are respected for their contributions to the greater good."
Different Things to Different People
Attending the 1999 annual meeting of the International Alliance of Holistic
Lawyers, was my first experience of connecting with practicing attorneys
and law professors who, having a deep passion for the law, were creating
ways to bring more than analysis and articulation into their work. Often
this process includes a deep appreciation for the impact of the sacred
in daily life; a code of ethics that reflects principles of spiritual
practice. Holistic lawyers each have unique and individual ways to bring
"holism" to the practice of law.
One of the speakers at the conference, a well-known Texas litigator and
arbitrator who later spoke at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association,
openly talked of his spiritual practice and mentioned, on occasion, praying
with clients before trial.
A criminal lawyer talked in another annual meeting of the IAHL about how
he "sized up" his criminal clients. While he always defended
them to the best of his ability, he also watched for signs of where the
person might be getting tired of the role of "victim of the system".
In such cases, he also supported them by referring them to reading materials,
suggesting therapists, and supporting their evolution and healing.
I include my story as an example of how one progresses to being comfortable
being labeled a "holistic lawyer".
Since the start of my career in January 1974, as international commercial
counsel and later also counsel to non-profit organizations, I sought to
prevent or reduce misunderstandings between my clients and other parties
to prevent or minimize litigation. I settled claims when that appeared
expeditious and right. I believe these to be typical functions of members
of our profession and at the same time I could be a tough negotiator when
needed. I also made sure that the language was clear in the commercial
contracts and in negotiations that both sides understood the meaning of
the terms; a "meeting of the minds." And, my counsel included
pointing out where my client's had not handled things in the best
way and advising them of how to proceed.
In 1997, by then having the "hobby" of teaching of Chan (Zen)
meditation, I made an additional, private commitment to recognize that
the people I represented and the parties with which I negotiated, were
spiritual beings. I set my intention, while conscientiously fulfilling
my role of providing advice and counsel to my clients, to foster the highest
level of trust between my clients and parties they with whom they were
doing business. At that time, leading an international law consultancy
in Taiwan, catching and clearing misunderstandings due to cultural differences
between my clients and these with whom they were dealing, was an important
part of this service.
These unspoken intentions brought a deeper meaning to my work and further
enhanced my relationships with all parties.
In 1998 I commenced studies of Asian philosophy about the energetic aspects
of the human body and Western concepts in psychology and characterology.
All of these support the healing of emotional, mental and physical challenges.
My studies have had a subtle impact on my law practice. For example, I
more empathetically relate to my clients and also understand how their
perceptions may reflect their life experience. In 2001 I completed training
as a mediator and added that to my client services.
What Belief Systems are Incorporated?
Holistic law incorporates a deep belief in supporting human potential in
two ways: 1) by enabling clients to learn and grow from their legal conflicts
and 2) by allowing lawyers to bring more of their abilities to their clients
besides the abilities to analyze and articulate.
The physicians' oath typically includes the phrase "to do no harm".
This simple phrase embodies the highest of ideals. I believe that many
lawyers taking the oath of admission to the bar, "to uphold the law"
also intend to operate at that level of high ideals. In 2002 I co-led
a workshop at that Annual Meeting of the International Alliance of Holistic
Lawyer which explored the sacred nature of oaths, their history in our
society, and how words physically and emotionally affect us. At the end
of the workshop the lawyer participants were invited to write their personal
oath, the oath that took them to law school. The personal oath typically
gets subsumed in modern legal training and the stress of law practice.
Then, one by one, we read our oaths out loud. All were moving and contained
profound commitments to service and caring that went beyond the typical
oath for bar admission. One was the singing of the popular song, "Bridge
Over Troubled Waters"!
The holistic lawyers I know, and those of other parts of this movement,
like collaborative law, therapeutic jurisprudence and of other similar
organizations are of all different faiths and spiritual practices and
are all similar in their commitment to healing, conflict resolution and service.
Relationship to Traditional Law-Who Benefits and Who Not?
Holistic lawyers aggressively represent their clients, and at the same
time, counsel them from a broad perspective. They encourage avoidance
of litigation when it is not advisable, support alternative dispute resolution
and foster the client's personal growth.
They do not take on the role of therapist to their law clients, but in
discussion may raise questions or give suggestions that lead the clients
to address issues they overlooked. These often are relationship and communication
issues. They encourage clients to also avail themselves of other support systems.
Anyone can benefit from this approach. It is tailored to the individual
and the matter at hand.
Is It More Suited in Some Areas---Are there Areas Where It Doesn't Work?
The principles of holistic practice can be used in all forms of law practice.
Among holistic lawyers are those with litigation, arbitration, commercial
law, matrimonial, family law and non-profit organization practices. How
it is used depends on the attorney, the client and the matter at hand.
As example of the broad scope of this concept, which generally encompasses
transformation of the legal profession, there are a number of organizations
focusing on various aspects of law practice. Restorative Justice, www.restorativejustice.org,
focuses in integrating into the criminal justice system concepts of healing
that are reflective of tribal cultures. This includes sentencing circles,
which allow the defendant to take responsibility, the victim to be heard
and acknowledged and parents and advisors to be part of the process. Therapeutic
Jurisprudence, www.therapeuticjurisprudence.org, looks at how the legal
system affects emotional life and psychological well being,. It encourages
use of empathetic listening and understanding of the psychological terms
of transference and counter transference. Collaborative Law provides a
system for lawyers to support their clients in seeking negotiated agreement.
If the clients cannot attain this and litigation is to occur, lawyers
for both parties step down. This method started in the matrimonial/family
law field and is expanding to other areas of law. The International Academy
of Collaborative Professions website is
How Do Clients React? How Are They Part Of The Solution?
Some clients embrace the idea of having a holistic lawyer; others may choose
not to seek it out or may be concerned at the ability of the holistic
lawyer to aggressively represent them. In my opinion, lawyers who are
able to see the big picture for their clients, and who have the capacity
to relate to their clients empathetically, are holistic lawyers. They
also tend to be greatly appreciated by their clients. Many of these lawyers
may not use the term "holistic lawyer" to describe themselves,
but they embody the concept.
To be "holistic" does not curtail an attorney's aggressive
representation of the client. Nor does it mean that the client is not
fully informed of their rights and available remedies. However, holistic
lawyers offer additional levels of service. The holistic lawyer is fully
present (taking in the client and the situation-not listening with one
ear while planning a response) and is sensitive to the factors that the
client may not be considering. Thereby, the holistic lawyer can both assist
the client in making choices in the client's overall best interest,
and also support the client, to the extent the client desires, to assume
responsibility, change non-productive life patterns, peacefully resolving
disputes and avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers
The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers is an established organizations
of lawyers, law professors and judges who are supporting transformation
of the legal profession. The underlying benefits of transformation are
twofold: 1) to bring more meaning into the lives of the practitioners
and 2) a greater depth of support to clients. This occurs by incorporating
non-traditional methods of conflict resolution, expansion of lawyer's
skills in the realm of the "wise elder."
While most of its members are located in the United States, legal professionals
from other countries are welcome. The organization's website is www.iahl.org.
Its next annual meeting will be at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, near
Monterey, California, April 6 to 8, 2006.
© 2005, Carolyn E. Hansen
Carolyn E. Hansen, Esq., is a practicing attorney in the Hudson Valley
Region of New York State. She has a JD from the University of Michigan
and a LL.M. (Cum Laude) from the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.
She has extensive international commercial and trade law experience as
in-house counsel and from private practice in the US and Asia. Her practice
includes representation of not-for-profit organizations. She can be reached
at AttyHansen@earthlink.netm or (01) (845) 687-8440.