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J. Kim Wright, J.D.: Working to Transform the Legal Profession, Part Two

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Welcome back to my interview with cutting edge attorney, J Kim Wright. You laid out your vision in the first installment. How do you and your like-minded colleagues go about bringing that vision about - transforming the legal profession, one lawyer, one legal interaction at a time? It's a worthy quest but it seems like it would take quite a long time to make a dent.

Well, that is the very inquiry I've been in for ten years. I can tell you what I have tried and point to some successes. Just telling lawyers about the options is a first step. Prior to my work, there were many of people already at work, laying groundwork. Mediation was still new but spreading. The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers had been in existence since 1991 and had held several conferences. The first problem-solving courts were operating. There were Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Restorative Justice programs. These were disparate movements and I wanted to show that they were part of something larger.

The Renaissance Lawyer web site and events were a good start. I and others wrote articles and spoke wherever anyone would listen."ยจ A few years later, I launched another web site: I interviewed over 100 lawyers who were engaged in cutting-edge holistic approaches and posted them on line. The site also includes thousands of documents (blogs, articles, news feeds, discussions).

We struggled with what to call this budding movement. Marketing experts point to the importance of a brand but one term eluded us. Holistic law had a new-agey feel that turned off many lawyers. Therapeutic jurisprudence focused on the psychological aspects of law and had an academic ring to it. The people doing collaborative law and restorative justice liked their names and appropriately wanted to keep them for their niches. Susan Daicoff coined the term "comprehensive law" but it didn't catch on with everyone. Transformational law was tossed around as a possibility but that didn't take either. I realized that this movement is about getting out of the box and a label is a box.

As the saying goes, the map is not the territory. Just knowing about the movement exists cannot shift the profession and the relations between lawyers and clients. Clients need to not only be informed but to be willing to ask for a more holistic approach. My book Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-solving Law (ABA, April, 2010) talks about the paradigm shift and offers information about skills for lawyers.

In the end, both are experiential processes. I offer as many trainings as I can and I promote the trainers who I know provide the paradigm shift trainings.

Trainings and conferences. You and I met you at the gathering of the Network for Spiritual Progressives in DC [June 11-13] where you co-led a workshop called "transforming the practice of law." Who showed up? Laypeople looking for a new paradigm for lawyers? Lawyers themselves? What can you accomplish in two hours?

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The group that showed up was mixed with lawyers and lay-people curious about the topic. I didn't ask everyone why they came but some volunteered: a teacher at a prison with familiarity about restorative justice; a minister; the daughter of a lawyer.

It is amazing what you can accomplish in two hours. Most people still don't know any of the new approaches exist. They don't know that there are several ways to get an amicable divorce, to approach a medical error, to write corporate documents in plain language rather than jargon....the list can go on. Sometimes just learning there are options produces a breakthrough.

That's good to hear. What would you like to add that we haven't covered yet, Kim?

I want to say more about this movement and what it looks like. As I said before, it goes by many names. Each of the approaches has in common that they are more holistic, humanistic, caring, focused on resolution. Many of them have other characteristics in common. For example, many of them are interdisciplinary: lawyers work with other professionals in teams. Some examples - there are many spokes on this wheel of legal options:

Collaborative law: originally created by Minneapolis lawyer, Stu Webb, as an amicable divorce practice. It has expanded into other areas like medical error, probate and business law. In collaborative law, two specially trained attorneys work with their clients to create a resolution that is for the best of all of them. In divorce, this would be focused on the well-being of the family, including the children, and non-legal and non-financial matters are given weight. In one case, my client and her husband had the goal of retaining their friendship so they could dance at their daughter's upcoming wedding.

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Restorative justice is a number of processes and approaches to healing the harm of crime. RJ looks at all the stakeholders, everyone affected by the crime - victims, offenders and the community - and attempts to bring healing to everyone. Apology and restitution are important to restoring the integrity of offenders. Victims obtain closure by facing the person who harmed them. Community members participate in processes that give them a voice in changing their environments. I used to work with the families of murder victims to bring them face to face with the killers and I helped the killers prepare to apologize and listen to the pain of the victims.

Therapeutic jurisprudence inquires into the therapeutic (or non-therapeutic) impact of the legal system and professionals in the system.

Problem-solving courts attempt to get to the core of a societal problem. There are drug courts, veterans courts, domestic violence courts, fathers courts, mental health courts, drunk-driving, and others. For example, in drug court, a defendant is given the opportunity to get drug treatment, a job, a place to live and create a healthier lifestyle. With the support of a case management team, the defendant becomes a taxpayer and productive citizen rather than a prisoner. The revolving door is closed and most drug court graduates do not commit new crimes. Some states are reporting that problem-solving courts have had a significant impact on reducing prison populations.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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