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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/15/11

Is There a Job for Lawyers as Healers of Conflict?

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In 1984, ten years after I began my practice as a trial attorney, U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Berger told the American Bar Association:


The entire legal profession - lawyers, judges, law teachers - have become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest that we tend to forget that we out to be healers - healers of conflicts. Doctors, in spite of astronomical medical costs, still retain a high degree of public confidence because they are perceived as healers. Should lawyers not be healers? Healers, not warriors? Healers, not procurers? Healers, not hired guns?


Beware of what you ask for. To heal conflict is a radically different process from what lawyers are trained to do or why their technical skills are needed.


Ten years before Justice Berger's call for lawyers to be healers, the Victim Offender Mediation (VOM) concept was born in Ontario , Canada , planting the first seeds of the legal reform he was calling for. VOM began as a joint program of the Waterloo Region probation department's volunteer program and Mennonite Central Committee Canada when two young men caused a total of $2,200 damage to 22 victims in a night of drunken vandalism. Both pleaded guilty to all 22 charges, then something radically different happened.


"The judge agreed that the two young men, along with their probation officer and the volunteer coordinator from MCC who had come up with this idea, would meet face to face with the victims to work out restitution agreements. The originators today agree that the approach used was very simplistic. They had the boys walk up to the door of the victims and knock, telling them who they were and why they were there. They talked to all but two victims who had moved. Restitution was established and within months repayment had been made." (Victim Offender Conferencing, 21.) The case was resolved without requiring lawyers to interpret the process for those involved in it.


The same type of victim-offender program was introduced in 1978 in   Elkhart ,   Indiana , after a probation officer visited the   Ottawa   program. While it first began in the probation department, it was soon moved to a nonprofit community organization.


The 1980s seems to have been at time ripe for new ideas about justice. That was when, without knowing about the VOM experience, I realized that justice as I knew it and practiced it in the courtroom represented but one model of justice. It was the punitive model that has its roots in our separation and fear of one another. It was the one Berger pointed out has us so mesmerized.


The non-punitive model justice is grounded in our connectedness and love (agape) for one another. My first encounter with other attorneys who were having similar realizations was at an early conference of the International Alliance of Holistic Attorneys in the 1990s. That was where I met Alan Reid, an attorney from   Ottawa ,   Canada   who had written a book called   Seeing Law Differently: Views from a Spiritual Path   (1992).    


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