There is a new movement in the law called “integrative law.” One of the institutions dearest to my heart, Commonweal, in Bolinas, California, has just initiated a program called the Integrative Law Institute. What does this mean, for lawyers and consumers of legal services?
Let me quote a paragraph from the Commonweal newsletter of June, 2012: “Our adversarial ‘winner take all’ legal system, rooted in medieval trial-by-combat and 18th century rationalism, frequently harms the physical and emotional health of those involved in it, prolonging conflict rather than achieving durable resolution. The services lawyers and judges are taught to provide often work at cross purposes to biological and psychological facts about how people experience conflict and make decisions. This poor fit between human needs and professional services wreaks particular destruction in families, where protracted divorce proceedings often destroy ex-spouses’ ability to cooperate in parenting their children. . .”
The new Commonweal program will offer an integrative law curriculum for law professors, so they can teach law students how better to understand and serve their clients’ needs. It will also provide continuing legal education programs for judges, mediators, and lawyers in integrative law skills. And there will be weekend residential workshops for lawyers who are burned out and disillusioned.
For at least 20 years, I’ve advocated for such programs and have usually been met with a shake of the head and the remark, “You can’t seriously expect me to worry about burned out lawyers.” But this response overlooks the impact that lawyers and judges have on the way justice works for all of us—as well as the tragedy of an individual’s life of passion and potential eroding over time into disillusionment and burnout.
The integrative law movement means that greater numbers of lawyers will be learning more about sensitivity to the emotional and psychological issues their clients are dealing with, while also learning about their own need for self-care. If lawyers and judges can allow themselves to be fully human, not merely rational cogs in the system, this can change the legal system profoundly, to the benefit of everyone.