If you are like me, you have spent extensive time and energy over the years analyzing situations and phenomena in an ongoing attempt to devise and implement strategies believed essential for “happiness.” If you are like me, your “mindfulness” practice in general – and meditation practice in particular – has, paradoxically, led to an experience of inner peace and a felt connection to all of life quite apart from analytical judgements of how life is or how life needs to be to create exacting future conditions for happiness. Having experienced this, you look for opportunities to cultivate and deepen this felt sense in all areas of your life.
On one hand, traditional law practice strengthens and intensifies the tendency to judge, discern, compare, and analyze. These are all thought-driven faculties that interpret real-life experience. While engaged in this analytical mode, one cannot remain experientially connected to real life as it unfolds. This is especially true for clients ensnared in legal disputes who are trying to figure out “what happened” in the past and what needs to happen in the future, but are doing so usually in the midst of a felt sense of loss, fear, and insecurity.
I. Viewing Conflict as Springboard for Transformation
But the nature of conflict in general, and law practice in particular insofar as it so firmly grasps the intellect and implicates our learned conditioning, requires the cultivation of a heightened ability to remain connected to present-moment experience. Both attorneys and clients are forced to deepen consciousness to resist the pull of triggered habitual reactions and learned conditioning. In this way, the law practice of the future views conflict as a springboard for personal transformation, and this potential exists both for attorneys and clients alike.
Unfortunately, the predominant adversarial model of conflict resolution, at least in contemporary American society, serves to encourage reactive behavior and solidify learned conditioning, and thought-driven, highly dualistic notions of right and wrong, win or lose, etc. As practitioners of both law and mindfulness, we have no real interest in perpetuating and deepening these dualistic, egoic strangleholds.
With the transformative potential of conflict at the core, my MINDFULAW program offers attorneys a framework, training, and support to more meaningfully integrate mindfulness and law practice in ways that transcend stress reduction. In the process we work to loosen the grip of learned conditioning and habitual reactions both in ourselves and in the clients with whom we work. Approaching law practice in this way offers the potential of Right Livelihood for Attorneys.
For years I have held myself out to the public as a holistic lawyer and in the process developed a blueprint for law practice that integrates mindfulness exercises with clients before concrete legal strategies are formulated. Through this approach, clients become far better able to confront their situations less defensively and with a far higher degree of consciousness. Clients can begin to open to situations in ways that transcend their narrow self-interest and open to the more expansive ripple of stakeholders that may be potentially impacted by the way in which a given conflict is ultimately resolved.
II. Redefining the Notion of “Helping” Clients
Approaching the practice of law in a more holistic way, in my view, requires us to revise the notion of what it means to “help” a client. Within the currently predominant adversarial model, “helping” a client is largely equated with winning versus losing, usually at the expense of other party. Usually, however, the objectives of a client are pursued with an eye toward objectives identified at the outset of representation. Without exploration of underlying conditioning and habitual reactions at the outset of representation, however, these objectives are very likely to be aligned with narrow self-interest, and unlikely to consider factors lying outside this narrow self-interest.
Additionally, when learned conditioning and habitual reactions lie outside the scope of attorney-client interaction, both the attorney and client are missing perhaps the best opportunity the client may ever have to address underlying tendencies that either led to, or exacerbated the client’s current difficulties. In failing to identify and work with these tendencies it is highly likely that the client will find him or herself back in this same predicament in the future. Is that really “helping” the client?
III. Restructuring Attorney-Client Interaction
Because of its fundamentally different approach to conflict in general, and helping clients in particular, holistic law practice requires a reset to client expectations, as well as a restructuring of attorney-client interaction. First, clients must be educated up front that your representation will include exercises aimed at identifying underlying learned conditioning and habitual reactions as a means of fostering improved clarity from which to make concrete decisions about legal strategy and conflict resolution. This tends to be more easily understood by clients with an already-established meditation practice, but increasing numbers of people are becoming interested in launching a new meditation practice. Approaching a legal problem in this holistic way may be an ideal launching point for beginning this practice.
In my holistic law practice, I have developed a five-session holistic law counseling program that is available to my clients. This program offers some structure to clients embarking on a new way of approaching legal services. Without structure, it becomes difficult to explain to clients with sufficient clarity as to how “holistic law” works, and the ways in which it differs from traditional law practice.
The objectives of my five-session holistic law program can be somewhat loosely summarized as follows:
(1) Grasping an understanding of the historical context, background, conditioning, patterns, etc., implicated in the situation the client is faced with;
(2) Additional fact gathering to understand the more brad context of conflict and range of stakeholders;
(3) Meditation sitting(s) to: (a) identify learned conditioning and habitual reactions surrounding the conflict; (b) loosen the grip of learned conditioning and habitual reactions and gather insight into how these dynamics have contributed to exacerbated the current situation; and (c) access inner wisdom applicable to resolution of the current conflict;
(4) Development of legal strategy or resolution plan.
IV. The MINDFULAW Program
My MINDFULAW Program for attorneys combines additional mindfulness training and practical training on holistic law practice. In addition, I have launched a Holistic Lawyer Association online at http://www.holisticlawyers.org that seeks to further educate the public on the goals of holistic law practice and connect the public with attorneys offering holistic legal services. The mindfulness training provided is done with an eye towards working with clients in a holistic law context. We will also work on how to transition from the holistic law counseling sessions to formal representation and/or mediation.
Knowledge of mediation and meditation experience is important in the holistic law context. As described earlier, the holistic approach has evolved almost as a separate alternative to the traditional adversarial model. When clients come to view their situation beyond narrow self-interest, they often seek to involve others in a cooperative or collaborative way in finding a solution to conflict, some of whom may have been previously considered “adversarial.”