By Jessica Stephen
More than 20,000 legal practitioners worldwide have abandoned their adversarial, win-at-all-costs approach in favor of a more holistic method.
The growing integrative law movement draws on everything from mediation to neuroscience to find out-of-court solutions that safeguard clients’ emotional and economic interests.
“The days of a client saying, ‘I don’t care what it costs, just pursue X,’ those days are history,” said family law practioner Diane Diel. “There is a shift in the legal profession that really is … looking to establish education of the client and problem solving as a goal rather than a win-lose adversarial mindset.”
The recent surge of interest also might be due, in part, to the recession.
“I think that the integrative movement is capturing that awareness of the economy and consciousness of costs and court systems being impoverished,” Diel said.
“There’s more drive to take things out of the courthouse these days than ever before.”
The humanistic approach also appeals to clients dealing with difficult situations, said Pauline Tesler, co-founder of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and director of the Integrative Law Institute at Commonweal in Mill Valley, Calif.
“Clients don’t experience these as legal categories, they experience these things as their lives,” she said. “This is the most client-friendly model on the planet. It is helping clients to make a meaningful choice about what kind of dispute resolution process they want to have, what it’s going to look like and who will help them through it.”
Unlike a traditional approach to the law, which Tesler said is rooted in conflict, integrative law takes a healing approach.
“(Integrative law) deals with broken relationships,” she said. “It is integrating a number of what were considered separate areas and merging them into a self-aware human conflict resolution system.
Tesler, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School, has been an advocate for integrative law since the 1990s. The practice, she said, allows attorneys to find better solutions for clients, better job satisfaction for themselves and a way to make a difference in the world.
And while each of those aspects are natural extensions of alternative dispute resolution, Tesler said that label no longer applies, since so many cases settle and so few go to trial.
“It’s been a misnomer for a long time,” she said. “A lot of us who are working in that universe are just grabbing the acronym and calling it ‘appropriate dispute resolution.’ Alternative doesn’t really apply anymore, because it is the job description.”
For Diel, collaborative law – perhaps the most well-known and often-applied arm of the integrative law movement — is an opportunity to represent people, not just make arguments, and help clients move past their conflicts into resolution.
“Creativity is very much the upside of this entire approach,” Diel, president-elect of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, said. “The letter of the law may be clear, but does that make it the only solution.”