My guest today is J. Kim Wright, J.D. We met recently in Washington at the gathering of the Network of Spiritual Progressives [NSP]. Welcome to OpEdNews, Kim. You have a rather unconventional take on the law and what lawyers can do to make a difference. Can you tell our readers where this idea came from?
That is a long story with lots of threads. Let me see if I can cut to the chase.
When I began law practice, I wanted to provide the best holistic services to my clients. As I litigated my first custody case, I found that my client and her family were in worse shape after the trial than before. Their conflict had escalated and they couldn't have a civil conversation. Both father and mother felt beaten up by the process. The child was in therapy. That pattern was repeated with every trial. One mother told me that she would give up custody of her children if she ever had to go through another trial. That was how bad it was for her.
I began to experiment and research other options. I found collaborative lawyers, mediators, holistic and peacemaking lawyers and learned about what they were doing and adapted it to my own practice.
In 1999-2000, I collected all I'd learned about the holistic, peacemaking approaches and wrote a web site, then with almost 400 pages of information,www.renaissancelawyer.com and I made a commitment to transforming the legal profession. I was continuously surprised to learn how very many lawyers shared my perspective of the new paradigm of law practice. Each thought that he or she was the only one, that he was alone.
I did a lot of writing and speaking over the next few years and saw the need for something more dynamic than a static site run by a nonprofit organization. In early 2008, I closed my law office and left my home to go on the road to document what I'd come to recognize as a movement. I've since interviewed over 100 lawyers for my web site,www.cuttingedgelaw.com. The site inquires into the question: what if lawyers were peacemakers, problem-solvers and healers of conflicts?
Your quest to transform the practice of law struck a chord among many of your colleagues. That's reassuring to the public, with its generally dismal opinion of the profession. While you were in law school and afterward, you were also building a family. How much did having children of your own contribute to your desire to find a higher purpose for your lawyering?
From 1977 when my first son was born until 2003 when my youngest daughter left home, I raised children. The birth of my son awakened my desire to change the world, to create a world where he and my other children could thrive. I became one of billions of parents who shared that vision.
My second husband had five children, I had one and we had one so I had seven children at home when I went to law school. I also was a Guardian ad Litem, representing abused and neglected children in court, a foster parent and the proverbial mother of a village of children collected from the streets of our community. I sometimes say that some children bring home stray puppies. Mine brought home stray children. There was always room for another place at the table. Eventually, some of the kids moved in. They were runaways, throwaways and unwanted and unloved children, mostly teenagers.
Our complex family relationships plus my husband's penchant for civil disobedience gave us many opportunities to interact with the legal system. It seemed easier - and cheaper - for me to get a law degree than to hire lawyers for all the legal issues in the family. I went through my second divorce during law school and it was one of the nastiest that I'd ever seen. The kids were torn apart - two of my step-children ended up living with me.
My own divorce and some unpleasant adversarial interactions with fellow law students led me to a decision that I would not practice law after law school, even though I had passed two bar exams (FL and GA). I worked in other jobs: as the director of a domestic violence program, doing research, even temp work.
Then in 1993, more than four years after graduation, I was in a transformational workshop when a man stood up to share. His name was Forrest Bayard and he was a Chicago lawyer. Forrest talked about his divorce practice and how he focused on the well-being of everyone, including the children. He said that his clients were friends and could amicably co-parent together after divorce. As he talked, I was sure the sky opened and the angelic hosts sang and the butterflies and birds fluttered. I went home and immediately took my third bar exam (NC). A few months later, I opened a law practice focused on family law and custody cases in particular.
At first I thought I could litigate as long as I was respectful but I soon learned that the children (and parents) still were damaged by even respectful litigation. I learned many other tools for resolving conflict in divorces.
Some of the children bumped up against the legal system. Through them, I learned about restorative justice, an approach to healing the harm of crime for both victims and offenders. I came across holistic law and designed my law practice to care for not only the legal needs but the emotional, financial and spiritual needs of my clients and their families. My multidisciplinary staff was considered cutting-edge and we held support groups in the elementary schools for children whose parents were divorced.
It has been several years since I was focused on children. My youngest daughter is 26. I've moved into areas of law that are not focused on children, but the roots of my work remain connected to my role as a mother.