“The problem is all inside your head” she said to me
“The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your lawyer”
Why do so many people continue to use lawyers they don’t respect, like or value?
I am part of a global movement known as the Integrative Law Movement. Integrative Lawyers believe that clients have the right to a lawyer who will listen empathetically to their story. We believe you have the right to a lawyer who will encourage you to follow the voice of your higher self, no matter how hurt or angry you may currently be. We believe you have the right to a lawyer who cares deeply about assisting you with meaningful conflict resolution rather than a short term legal victory. We believe that law can be a healing profession and that this requires Integrative lawyers who look inwards and strive to become whole themselves in order to better assist their clients in using the legal system. As you can imagine, being an Integrative Lawyer is sometimes lonely.
If you admit you’re a lawyer at a social gathering the best you can hope for is someone tries to get a free consultation over a boring issue. The worse reactions range from suddenly seeing physical evidence of mistrust in your dining companion such as tensed shoulders or narrowed eyes right down to being told blatantly offensive lawyer jokes. The most recent ones I’ve been subjected to are “What do lawyers use for birth control? Their personalities” and “What is the difference between a lawyer and a sperm cell? At least the sperm has a 1 in 600 million chance at becoming a human being.”
I’m not jumping to the defence of the profession just yet. After all, I managed only two years in a large firm before I ran for the hills, literally. I went from working in a glass skyscraper in Cape Town to an abandoned municipal building with no toilet seats and broken windows in a village of 150 inhabitants – where I set up a college for township students. ( NO experience is ever wasted! My heart and mind expanded there in ways I didn’t know were possible). But I digress.
Studies have been done that show the public has less respect for attorneys than any other professional group. The crisis in the legal profession has been described by Susan Daicoff, a US law professor and qualified psychologist, as a “tripartite crisis which includes poor job satisfaction, poor public perception and combative litigation and incivility”. I’m going to simplify that and say there are 3 parts to the crisis:
Lawyers don’t like themselves. People don’t like lawyers. Lawyers don’t like each other.
How do we know lawyers don’t like themselves? There are abnormally high rates of depression and substance abuse throughout the profession. In February this year a London lawyer, who was regularly featured in the Who’s Who list of International Trademark lawyers, threw himself in front of a train in the middle of a high-pressure trial. Although he’d told a colleague the day before that he wanted to kill himself, no one had taken it seriously. In Australia the top 5 firms got together to create a DVD on Depression in the legal profession (Resilience@law).
Lawyer jokes ranging from funny to pretty insulting show what the public thinks of lawyers. As for lawyers not liking each other, there is a lot of US research showing high levels of aggression between lawyers in and out the courtroom. In South Africa, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence about the bullying and often sexist behaviour that characterizes our profession, both from advocates and attorneys.
Lawyer, Know Thyself, Daicoff’s book, explores this crisis and presents some interesting findings such as the fact that people drawn to study law tend to come from families that are very achievement oriented and which value action and results over feelings. Most potential lawyers have a preference for dominance and leadership abilities and not so much emphasis on emotional or interpersonal matters. In addition to the research that shows certain types of people are drawn to law in the first place, there are also many studies that show that law school continues to emphasise these characteristics by encouraging competition and discouraging collaboration and actively teaching that emotions and feelings are irrelevant and irrational to the practice of law. Daicoff explains that “Law students become less interested in community, intimacy, personal growth and inherent satisfaction and more interested in appearance, attractiveness…and the esteem of others”. There is also evidence to show that law schools’ attempt to teach students to “think like a lawyer” has the effect of shifting students from an ethic of care to a rights-based orientation. In other words, no matter what type of person you are going into law school, it is certain by the time they leave they’ll have learned to be more emotionally neutral, to put it politely. Lawyers are taught to make rational and logical decisions about who’s right and not worry too much about how everyone feels. If, by the time they graduate, they haven’t sufficiently learned how to focus solely on their intellectual powers and to ignore their own and others’ emotional needs (which obviously get in the way of good clear decision-making) then they will certainly master these skills in their further training. Whether a lawyer chooses the attorney route and spends 2 years doing articles at a law firm or becomes an advocate and enters a contract of “pupillage” at the bar working for another advocate, every day in subtle and not so subtle ways, lawyers are pushed towards living firmly from their intellectual worlds and ignoring their emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
So Daicoff’s research has shown us that a lawyer is likely to come from a family which doesn’t do a whole lot of “touchy feely” stuff and in which they tend to learn that thinking is a whole lot more important than feeling. During law school this becomes more deeply ingrained and by the time the lawyer makes it to a law firm and surveys all those on the ladder ahead, it will be clear that success only comes to those who focus on getting ahead and making a name for him or herself. The price for being nice and caring too much about clients is high – promotion will be unlikely. The sad reality is that lawyers who spend significant amounts of time and energy attending to their clients are not going to be billing as many hours as those who do the bare minimum. It’s starting to emerge that the answer to “where are all the nice lawyers?” is pretty complex. The systems currently in place are not designed to produce, protect or promote lawyers who care!
But the systems are failing. Clients are starting to demand lawyers who care, lawyers who they genuinely believe have their best interests at heart and who are capable of deep, empathetic listening. A forward thinking US law professor uses the term “multi-dimensional lawyering” to explain the shift taking place in which we need lawyers who are not just Fighters but also Designers and Problem Solvers. “The Fighter puts together a case by “rewinding the tape,” i.e., reconstructing the events that give rise to liability. Formal pleadings and the expert, precedent-following quality of legal argument are scrupulously devoted toward reaching a precise, reliable result based on these events. Rewinding the historical tape of events and behaviors accurately is thus crucial, both to supplying victory for the Fighter and to supplying legitimacy to a court judgment that ultimately must affix blame to one party.” Lawyers who can operate preventively and creatively are Designers and Problem Solvers and they are more likely to look forward than backward. Their work is designing environments and facilitating relationships to prevent conflict and is a creative role rather than a reactive role.
What type of lawyer do you want when you are having an ante-nuptial contract or a will drawn up? What type of lawyer will you hire if you decide to get divorced and have children, making an ongoing relationship with your spouse a necessity? The type of lawyer the public demands is the type of lawyer the market will produce to fill the need.
“Most sustainable improvements in community occur when citizens discover their own power to act…when they stop waiting for the professionals or elected leadership to do something, and decide that they can reclaim what they have delegated to others.” Peter Block, “Community: the Structure of Belonging”.
Many law firms have outdated methods for treating and billing their clients because the clients have not demanded they change! We need clients who seek creative lawyers, entrepreneurial lawyers, lawyers prepared to risk being wrong by inventing completely new contracts that clients actually understand. I work with lawyers every week who are afraid if they wear what they really want to wear that clients won’t take them seriously, so they continue to don grey suits and white shirts even when they set up their own practice. Lawyers worry about what they put in their office because they wonder what signal it sends if the client sees that the lawyer has a crystal collection or some self-help books or does belly-dancing as a hobby. I know lawyers who do all these things and they are brilliant lawyers as well as well-rounded individuals because they have a life outside the office.
A local lawyer who decided to advertise in the alternative Link-Up Magazine was initially quite concerned her colleagues would stop taking her seriously. I find it sad that every week I come across story after story of lawyers who become aware, often through personal loss or illness but sometimes through becoming a parent or other such life-altering event, that they’ve cut off parts of themselves to meet the stereotype the profession has demanded of them. Sadly, many of them find that the only way they can allow these new parts of themselves to flourish is by leaving the law.
It is as a result of all these issues in the legal system that the Integrative Law Movement grew. A movement dedicated to bringing greater levels of consciousness and compassion to the legal profession. It includes thousands of lawyers, legal advisors, judges, law school professors and law students along with members of the public who are questioning the way the legal system currently functions and creating a new vision of law that utilizes not only the powers of intellectual reasoning but the even more powerful characteristics of heart and soul. The Integrative Law Movement integrates the existing system with new models and ways of practising law. It integrates emotions with logic and rationality and it integrates learning from other disciplines like psychology and organisational development, into the legal system. I have created the Centre for Integrative Law to bring these wonderful developments to South Africa and to grow the Integrative Law Movement in this country. I’m working with law schools, law societies, law firms and individual lawyers who are ready to be part of the change but there’s a long way to go.
The next time you’re at a dinner and someone makes a crack about lawyers, I hope you’ll remember some of this. Most of all I hope you’ll remember that to “be the change you wish to see in the world” as Gandhi (who was a lawyer) told us. YOU need to choose a lawyer that dares to be different. Choose a multi-dimensional lawyer who knows when to be a Fighter, when to be a Designer and when to be a Problem-Solver. Ask your lawyer what their personal values are or why they do the work they do and see if the responses resonates with your needs. Personally, I’d suggest you risk choosing the lawyer with the self-help books on their shelf! Or one you meet at a Mindfulness course. Choose a lawyer that you feel has not only the legal competency, but resonates with who you are and what you stand for. These lawyers are out there. You just need to look.