For good or ill, the modern ADR movement has long been a perceived refuge for lawyers who are disenchanted with the adversary system.
Here at the Georgia ADR Blog, we like to recognize similar “movements” that borrow or draw off this theme and incorporate elements of ADR in legal practice. Collaborative law is a good example and is growing in popularity in Georgia among an expanding cadre of lawyer-enthusiasts (indeed, collaborative law is largely dependent on having such a cadre). Holistic law and therapeutic jurisprudence are interesting directions, as well. In this spirit, our attention has been drawn to integrative law.
Last month, ABAJornal.com posted an article asking “Is the integrative law movement the next ‘huge wave’ for the legal profession?” According to the article, integrative law is a “movement encompass[ing] some forms of mediation, restorative justice, collaborative practice, and even elements of positive psychology and social neuroscience.” Hey, we like it already. CNCR’s Nexus and Restorative Justice Projects have long been exploring these elements, but there is just something niggling us about this supposed “next ‘huge wave coming to the legal profession’.” Perhaps it is the way integrative law is presented as the next wonder drug for the disgruntled, unhappy practitioner of the legal arts.
The ABA article focuses on the benefits and apparent revolutionary healing that comes to those lawyers who choose to practice within the integrative law framework. Quoting Integrative (and Collaborative) Law pioneer Pauline Tessler, “Better balance is a byproduct of this type of practice…Because [lawyers who practice integrative law techniques] focus on avoiding harm and restoring relationships, integrative lawyers experience a higher level of professional satisfaction.” There’s an added bonus—by taking the aggressiveness and competitiveness out of law, integrative law provides a better living and all-around personal life for lawyers. If we had only known…
Hey, you can get even a certificate! According to The Integrative Law Institute website, a lawyer must complete 40 hours of continuing education course work that includes 25 hours of workshops provided by the institute to be considered certified.
There is no doubt some in the legal profession need a reminder of what is important. To build relationships with your client, to be intentional with your time while practicing, and to find harmony in and out of the work place are invaluable goals. Perhaps most inspiring is integrative law’s aim “to reclaim law as a healing profession”. Although helpful, it appears on the surface that The Integrative Law Institute, and perhaps the movement itself, is making a business out of reminding those who care about people, not just billable hours, to merely press on. This is not to impugn the motives of this movement’s proponents; we just have a natural skepticism of New Age reframes of the obvious.
Often preaching against the “aggressiveness” and “competitiveness” of traditional legal practice, it seems that integrative law and its leaders ignore the fact that some attorneys thrive off the competition in this capitalistic market. For many, billable hours serve a purpose and their work drives their passions in their personal lives as well. Competitiveness within the legal field and life-balance are not necessarily antonyms. ADR continues to grow and become a more significant part of the legal field, but ADR often times fuels competitiveness in a different sort of way. For some, sitting down across the table and staring the “adversary” in the eyes as weeks of hard bargaining and legal research come to fruition creates its own high that few would want to replace. Sometimes you have to be a “hard bargainer” even when practicing principled negotiation.
At some point, all lawyers struggle to make their practice congruent with themselves, and some folks simply shouldn’t become lawyers in the first place or will find over time that there are better ways to serve people and find satisfaction. For those of us who love the profession and are committed to it, the general principles of integrative law appear to be obtainable simply through self-reflection and prioritizing one’s life goals. If getting a certificate from the Integrative Law Institute helps, then terrific, but we fail to see the revolutionary aspects of a “movement” here.