Monthly Archives: September 2012

Strange Attractor Patterns, Chaos Theory and Change

Sometimes movement appears chaotic, such as the movement of clouds or the swirling motion of a liquid. Yet when these movements are plotted by scientists onto 2 or 3 dimensional graphs, it emerges that they are not random. Instead, they form into strange and beautiful shapes which show that there is a complex self organising structure underpinning the chaotic system.  These are known as “strange attractor patterns”.

As Margaret Wheatley, the systems thinking expert, explains in Leadership and the New Science, when one is trying to “fix” a system often this requires the existing system being broken or dismantled. The system then goes into a period of oscillation swinging backwards and forwards between different states.  The final state in a system’s movement away from order is chaos, although not all systems move into chaos. We tend to see chaos as a bad thing because it’s totally unpredictable, but high energy chaos or disorder actually contains the seeds of order. Just as we think the system has reached the point where everything should fall apart, the strange attractor comes into play and a new kind of order emerges from the chaos.

I am one of many people in the Integrative Law Movement who see the legal system as broken. This statement obviously requires detailed substantiation but for now I shall limit this to mentioning these already established factors:  The legal profession is badly regarded by clients, often fails to reach any of the goals it has set for itself (managing conflict) and is filled with disillusioned lawyers who had once hoped to make a difference in society. (for more information refer to Susan Daicoff’s explanation of the tripartite crisis in the profession). Although it’s not suggested that the entire legal system could or should be dismantled, there are parts of the system, or systems within systems, which require fundamental re-organisation.  For example, legal language for many centuries has remained virtually unchanged with the result that most people can’t understand the contracts by which they are bound, without legal assistance. Sentencing drug addicted offenders to prison is another system that has been dismantled in some parts of the world after years of research proves that such practices serve neither the offender, the victims of the crimes nor society at large.


Jurisprudence is founded on principles of maintaining the status quo, mitigating risk, quantifying the immeasurable, reducing uncertainty. All of this means lawyers operate poorly in disorder or chaos. But the world is shifting very fast and the legal system is being forced to change to keep pace. The legal profession will have to prepare itself to deal with chaos however uncomfortable this may be.  Old systems need to be abandoned in order to bring new ones into being. Changes may include embracing new technology; creating new billing systems; developing new ways to structure law firms; looking at alternative sentencing mechanisms for criminals (particularly youth and addicted offenders); pioneering approaches such as collaborative law divorce (removing court from the process) or teaching lawyers to be healers and peacemakers instead of soldiers armed for battle.

When collaborative law in divorce was introduced many thought that dismantling the current divorce regime was untenable and unsustainable and that clients would not want it. But today more than 25 000 lawyers across the world have been trained in and are practising collaborative law divorce and thousands more are seeking such training. It was originally thought that court brought order to the divorce process and that facilitating an adversarial divorce without the court structure in place would be chaotic but in fact the opposite proved true. Someone was bold enough to challenge the existing system.

It is time for change but in order to change, legal professionals will have to start examining their own deeply entrenched inclination not to change. What’s holding you back from change?