Happy Law

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. — Bertrand Russell

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years. — Bertrand Russell

The other day I was participating in a webinar (that godsend to rural lawyers everywhere) and was struck by a comment made by a member of the live audience. He prefaced his question to the speaker by mentioning that he was in the process of transitioning his practice from family law litigation to, as he put it, the “happy law” of estate planning. While I found both the question and response that followed to be unremarkable, the phrase “happy law” stuck with me.

For those unfamiliar with family law litigation, it is an emotion-laden, stress-filled morass characterized by petty bickering, pointless arguments, and infighting and political maneuvering worthy of the US Congress – and that’s just what it’s like for the lawyers. So, it is easy to see why a lawyer would describe a transition to an area of law where there are courteous and willing clients as happy law – the hours are regular, the clients want to reach the same goals, there are no more 4 AM complaint calls; in general the work/life balance thing gets better (the work-life balance also gets better if one transitions to a rural practice, but that’s a whole ‘nother post). Continue reading

Hearing Truth

TRUESamuel Johnson is quoted as saying “[i]n order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.” My chance to learn to hear truth came  as I tried to wrap my “think like a lawyer” brain around the concepts of interest-based mediation during a 5 day, 10 hours per day course on family mediation. There is a leap of faith one has to make when transitioning between being “lawyer” and being “neutral” and, after years of legal training it is not an easy leap to make.

The mediation crowd calls it “letting the process work”. It took me 3 days to stop calling it “a quick way to get into trouble.” The hardest part in leaving the advocate behind is abandoning the lawyer’s laser focus on issues, facts, and law for simply hearing truth – not the law’s truth, but the parties’ truth – and realizing that in that moment of silent hearing meaningful solutions are generated without your involvement. Continue reading

A Lawyer’s Role

The holistic law movement recognizes that the lawyer’s role is not to be the driver of change, rather it is to be the healer of conflicts. Lawyers do not change institutions; all forms of institutional change only come through social conversation between numbers of people. What lawyers do is to restore a client’s humanity.

There does not appear to be a good definition (other than self-identification) of what a holistic law practice is. The movement appears to encompass:

The best summary is that holistic law is a process that stresses compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing, is designed to honor and respect the clients’ humanity and encourages the lawyer to enjoy the practice of law.

See also: