Words: Elaine Quinn (November 2016)
Image Credits: J. Kim Wright / Open Source
Reading Time: 8 minutes


“The seeds of the late 1990s and early 2000s have flourished. We are grateful to our pioneers and trailblazers who held this vision and brought it to fruition.

Lawyers are now recognized for our true purpose: peacemaking, problem-solving and healing the wounds of the community. Trials are rare and civil. Collaboration, prevention, and transformation are the lawyers’ stock in trade. We create sustainable agreements and resolutions.

Lawmakers serve, conscious of all the stakeholders, and of our interconnectedness with Nature and each other. They work on common goals and values to benefit everyone.

Law enforcement focuses on Right Relationships, working in partnership with the community to foster strong, empowered and safe communities.

Judges are wise leaders who help to balance competing values, hold everyone accountable, and deliver fair results with love, compassion and empathy.

Prisons are a part of our past. Now we focus on rehabilitation, healing, and reconnection for all members of society. Criminal behavior is seen as a symptom of brokenness that needs to be healed.

Law students still learn the focused, analytical thinking that is known as thinking like a lawyer. Now they are also trained in holistic thinking. Art is part of the balanced core curriculum.

Our history of restorative practices and nonviolent communication in schools has helped to produce citizens who tell their truths, take responsibility and accept accountability.

The Legal System Works for Everyone.”

J. Kim Wright is a US lawyer and a founding pioneer of the expanding Integrative Law Movement, a movement that can be described in many ways including, in Kim’s own words: “an international movement that responds to the challenges of law practice with creative, innovative solutions. It blends the human and the analytical. The approach spans personal and systemic change. Integrative lawyers are purpose-oriented, that is, they have a clear sense of their own purpose and the purpose of law; they have a broader view of their roles as lawyers, often seeing themselves as change agents; and they are innovative, looking for ways to serve clients and themselves.”

She herself usually answers the question of what Integrative Law is using the poem of ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ below (illustrated with her stuffed elephant!) given the concept is not easily defined or captured in words. These creative tools also invite a sensory, as well as intellectual, understanding of the concept, something which would be encouraged by lawyers within the movement.

Blind Men and the Elephant – A Poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan / To learning much inclined / Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind) / That each by observation / Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant / And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side / At once began to bawl: / “God bless me! but the Elephant / Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk / Cried, -“Ho! what have we here / So very round and smooth and sharp? / To me ’tis mighty clear /This wonder of an Elephant / Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal / And happening to take / The squirming trunk within his hands / Thus boldly up and spake: / “I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant  /Is very like a snake!

The Fourth reached out an eager hand / And felt about the knee: / “What most this wondrous beast is like / Is mighty plain,” -quoth he / “‘Tis clear enough the Elephant / Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear / Said- “E’en the blindest man / Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can / This marvel of an Elephant / Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun / About the beast to grope / Then, seizing on the swinging tail / That fell within his scope / “I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan / Disputed loud and long / Each in his own opinion / Exceeding stiff and strong / Though each was partly in the right / And all were in the wrong!

Kim passed her first US bar exam in 1989 but it was not until five years later, having been inspired by a chance encounter with a lawyer already practicing a form of collaborative family law that she started to practice family law herself in earnest. After being involved in several hard won, adversarial custody cases, she saw up close the detrimental impact of the litigious family law court system on her clients and decided to focus her work on as a lawyer on peacemaking. This was the mid-nineties when such an intention in law practice was all but unheard of.  This decision however set her on a unique and trail-blazing path which has seen her for more than fifteen years, being a figure-head and champion for a new ways of lawyering that are founded upon integrative, holistic, healing, peace-making and problem-solving perspectives. She continues to be a source of inspiration, support and encouragement to many lawyers around the world.

Kim, did it take a lot of personal courage to do things differently within the legal profession particularly when you started out on this path?

I think there are several chapters of the journey and so each one has taken something different. For example, when I became a lawyer there was a certain amount of courage because the system was not designed for the type of law practice that I wanted to have. And then, when I left my law practice many years later to go out on the road doing a tour of connecting lawyers, that took a different type of courage, the courage of being different. For me, it’s about fine-tuning who I am. And in some ways that’s courageous and, in other ways, it is just surrendering and allowing and recognising who I am and then being willing to be that. Part of being a leader is being willing to be authentic in the face of no agreement.

What are the things that helped you most in carving out this alternative legal path?

I wasn’t going to practice law until I discovered it was possible to practice in a way that was about relationships and was focused on healing. It was then that I said “Oh, I can be a lawyer”. Until then, I had been rejecting the practice of law for several years despite having already been sworn in to practice. The turning point came in 1993 when a lawyer stood up at a workshop I was attending. He introduced himself as Forrest Bayard and said that he practiced law in a way that encouraged his clients to be friends at the end of the divorce process and that he granted dignity to everyone. He described a way of practising law that was not previously in my reality. Once I realised that it was possible to practice that way, I sought that path.

What, for you, is the main difficulty with today’s mainstream legal system?

I think one of the issues is that people are considered commodities. Clients are sources of money and lawyers are not sources of conflict-resolution but rather people come to lawyers so that they can “beat somebody up”. And so, in both cases, the process is not about resolving conflict, peace-making, healing or getting beyond something. It is not about creation, it is not about love. If it was about all of those things the practice would be designed differently and society would be designed differently, And it is one of the reasons that I am so interested in transforming the practice of law because it is that kind of design, those kinds of values, that I want to promote.

What is your vision for the legal system of tomorrow?

In 2014, I took part in a special event called ‘New Story Summit: Inspiring Pathways for our Planetary Future’ at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland where we worked on a vision of the future in all professions and areas of society. That is where this vision (see above left) was created as a synthesis of some of the discussions that had been held amongst the small legal contingent present at the event.

It can be challenging to sustain these beautiful visions when faced with the reality of the problems we see everywhere in the world. Where do you turn for sustenance and courage?

I am constantly inspired by the people that I meet and their courage in stepping out and being different when it looks like they are all alone. That sustains me a lot as well as being part of a community that is still able to be idealistic. I am almost 59 years old and I am supposed to be jaded and cynical and, for goodness sake, I am a lawyer! All lawyers are cynical right? But no, I am not, I really am constantly inspired. I am inspired that you created this magazine, you listened to what you were called to do. And I am inspired that I am having dinner this evening with a lawyer who has gone to India to do yoga training. She was looking for what to do next and she got the call to go to India. The people in my community and the people I meet on my travels are just magical, the greatest tribe. And that is the main thing. Travel is my spiritual practice because it brings me in touch with, not only these people, but the synchronicities of the world.

I also do practices that you might call contemplative. I am a fan of the Tree of Contemplative Practices (note: this was devised by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society) where many of the practices described I had not even realised were contemplative. My favourite contemplation is to be in the mountains, in nature. When I cannot do that I try to find something else, for example, spending time with people I love or reaching out and seeing who might need some service. Service is an important part of this, when I can provide for someone else that is really wonderful for me.

Finally, is there a nugget of advice you could offer young lawyers seeking the type of change we are talking about within their own careers and paths?

I think it is a combination of inside and out. The first thing is to get as clear as possible, on a continuing journey of clarity, about who I am and who you are from that authentic place. Then it becomes less about courage and more about surrendering and being true.

Stunning Nature No.2

J. KIM WRIGHT is a pioneering leader of the Integrative Law Movement. She is the author of two American Bar Association best sellers: ‘Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law‘ and ‘Lawyers as Changemakers, The Global Integrative Law Movement‘ For more about Kim, see www.jkimwright.com or www.cuttingedgelaw.com.

This interview has been transcribed from an in-person interview on 9 November 2016.


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