Keeva on Life and Practice

Once More, With Healing

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For David Link, hearing chief jus­­tice Warren Burger speak at the 1983 ABA Midyear Meeting was a revelation. The venue was New Orleans, and the topic on tap was whether the association should hire a public relations firm to help im­prove the image of lawyers.

Much was made of the terrific job dentists had done in giving their pro­fession a face-lift, and a conversation ensued on the is­sue of just how aggressive a PR firm should be in making the case for lawyers.

That’s when Burger stood up and politely questioned the entire exercise, asking whether instead of offering cosmetic solutions to a professional crisis, it might be better to talk about what the lawyers—not the spinmeisters—might do to help improve the situation.

“Then,” Link recalls, “the chief pointed out that the orig­inal role of lawyers was healing social conflict, and that we really needed to embrace that role once again.” A light went on. “I had never heard it put in those terms before,” Link says. “But then I thought back on my own career, and I realized that the most satisfying parts had been when I had been a healer, whether it was when I was a government lawyer, a partner in a big law firm or a law school dean.”

Lawyer as healer: Skeptics among us might call it an oxymoron. But it made all the sense in the world to Link, who, at the time of Burger’s comments, was in his eighth year of what would become an unprecedented 24-year tenure as dean of Notre Dame Law School.

“I remember when Chief Justice Burger died,” Link recalls, “and how I wondered who would pursue the concept of lawyer as healer.”

The answer to that question is now clear: Link himself. In 2002, he became the first president and CEO of the In­ternational Centre for Healing and the Law, based at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The idea of the lawyer as healer makes good sense to a lot of people and always has. Look at Gan­dhi’s writings on practicing law: “I understood that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder.” Or Lincoln’s: “Point out to [your neighbors] how the nominal winner is often a real loser—in fees, expenses and waste of time.” And there is little doubt that Learned Hand understood the need for healing; he said that only death and serious illness were more fearsome than going through a law­­suit.

But Gandhis, Lincolns and Hands are in somewhat short supply these days, and Burger died in 1995.


The International Centre for Healing and the Law is dedicated to furthering the concept of the lawyer as healer by championing the proposition that there are preferred options to the adversarial approach that can benefit both clients and lawyers.

“We may be used to doing things a certain way, but the truth is that most people don’t want to attack the dignity of others,” Link says. “It’s essential that we realize that becoming a warrior is really just one way of doing things. Law­yers and the public need to be aware of more humane ways, ways that bring peace to people’s lives.”

Link can point to many experiences to substantiate that belief, the last one in February. That’s when he traveled to Israel and the West Bank to lecture and speak with students and faculty at Israeli and Palestinian universities.

“In every case, I’ve found that it is governments that pro­long the conflicts, not the people. The people truly want peace.” The analogy to lawyers is not lost on him. “Lawyers need to know that their clients want peace and harmony in their lives, and that they need to facilitate that, rather than exacerbate the problems. The real goal should be maintaining dignity on both sides, whether the parties are corporations or married couples.”

Link recalls one healing story from his own life.

“I was working for a large Chicago law firm, and I went down to a small town to liquidate a successful corporation. They were liquidating because the owners, who were brothers, disagreed on investment strategies.

“After listening to them, I decided that liquidation wasn’t the best thing to do. Instead, I divided the company in­to parts based on functions. It was a way to save the corporation and keep it together. If I had liquidated it, it would have ended the problem. But by talking them into it the way I did, we saved the company and the relationships. It was the healing alternative. I didn’t have to do it. I would have earned the fee either way. But it was the right thing to do for that family” and for that company, he says.


On one level, the center functions as a clearinghouse for what’s come to be called the comprehensive law movement. Susan Daicoff, a law professor at Florida Coast­al School of Law (and a center fellow), coined the name and has become well-known for defining what she calls the “vectors” that comprise it. They include collaborative law, restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, preventive law, humanizing legal education and procedural justice. (See for more.)

“What is really wonderful,” Daicoff says, “is that the center has the potential to interact with the judiciary, the practicing bar, the academy and the general public. But I think where it may have the greatest impact is with the public.”

Apart from hosting a variety of gatherings and funding research into the law-and-healing nexus, the center also plans to publish a series of books. The first, called, simply enough, Healing and the Law, is set to be published early in the summer. (In the interest of full disclosure: I am a center fellow and have contributed a chapter to the upcoming volume.)

One center goal is to create a body of literature—to include a broad collection of lawyer-as-healer stories. (For more on the International Cen­tre for Healing and the Law, go to

Link likes to point out that, historically, the law was one of the three great healing professions, the others being the clergy and medicine. It’s a vocation one can be called to.

That’s an aspect of lawyering that ABA President Den­nis W. Archer invokes in speeches these days.

“If we approach our life’s work as healers,” he said in a keynote address at the last Minnesota State Bar annual meeting, “if we reorient our thinking to take advantage of the power of healing, we can do much good for our clients and others. The mere presence of a lawyer can offer com­fort and solace to a person in need of help.”

Steven Keeva, an ABA Journal assistant managing editor, is the author of Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satis­fac­­tion in the Legal Life.

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