Work-Life Balance

Is the integrative law movement the next ‘huge wave’ for the legal profession?

Posted Aug 1, 2013 2:30 AM CDT
By Hollee Schwartz Temple

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Sean Mason: "The passion I have for my work is the fulfillment of who I consider myself to be." Photo by Kevin Steele.

Sean Mason’s legal practice is all about love.

Most lawyers wouldn’t associate estate planning or divorce mediation with tenderness and devotion, but Mason says “helping clients express love for the people who matter most in their lives” is the principle that guides his Santa Barbara, Calif., practice at the Mason Law Group.

Mason is a practitioner of the burgeoning integrative law movement, which views law as a healing profession. He believes that lawyers who adopt the integrative law philosophy enjoy an additional benefit: improved work-life balance.

“There’s a great quote about when someone has passion for the work they do: You can’t tell the difference between whether they’re at work or at play,” says Mason, 51, who meditates daily and went to law school in hopes of becoming a mediator. “That’s what it’s like for me. The passion I have for my work is the fulfillment of who I consider myself to be.”

Unlike traditional law practice, which is often competitive and aggressive, integrative lawyers are trying to simultaneously make a difference in the world, earn a good living and lead satisfying personal lives. According to Pauline Tesler, director of the Integrative Law Institute, integrative law is the “umbrella term for a variety of vectors that have become more widely known” in the past few years. The movement encompasses some forms of mediation, restorative justice, collaborative practice, and even elements of positive psychology and social neuroscience.

Integrative lawyers focus on out-of-court solutions and the well-being of all players in the legal system—lawyers and clients included. Over the past several years, the movement has gained momentum. And Tesler, who has trained more than 6,000 people in integrative law principles over the past 20 years, is convinced it is the next “huge wave coming to the legal profession.”

RESIDUAL BENEFITS

“Better balance is a byproduct of this type of practice,” says Tesler, 70, whose organization certifies integrative lawyers. Integrative lawyers are focused on finding balance and ways to integrate physical and emotional healing into their own lives, she says, and as a result, they become more effective at conflict resolution. Because they focus on avoiding harm and restoring relationships, Tesler says, integrative lawyers experience a higher level of professional satisfaction.

Even lawyers who don’t want to obtain certifications or label themselves as integrative can benefit from a more holistic approach to lawyering, according to world-traveling integrative law advocate J. Kim Wright. Five years ago, Wright gave up her home base and began traveling the world to spread the principles of integrative law. She recently worked with a group of unhappy attorneys in Australia who improved their outlook by chucking the billable hour.

“The alternative billing piece is a part of the integrative law movement that comes from wanting better quality of life,” says Wright, 55. “It comes from wanting something that does not measure the value of people or clients in six-minute increments.”

And any lawyer in any practice area can adopt pieces of the integrative law approach to find better balance and satisfaction. The first step, Wright says, is to know who you are and what you want. The next is to open yourself up to the possibility that you can be true to yourself and still be a lawyer, she says.

“It’s not about finding a specific area of law or having to practice in a particular model,” Wright says. “It’s knowing something else is possible and designing that.”

Though most lawyers haven’t been exposed to settlement-oriented practice in law school, the principles of integrative law can be learned and applied at any point in a lawyer’s career.

“When I do introductory trainings,” Tesler says, “after the first break, several people always come up crying and saying that they thought they would have to leave the legal profession because they didn’t think they could stand another day. Integrative law is giving lawyers new hope, showing us a way that we can be human and much more effective advocates for our clients.”

Hollee Schwartz Temple, co-author of "Good Enough Is the New Perfect," directs the legal writing program at West Virginia University.

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