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Lawyers who heal?

By Danna HarmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 21, 2004


"How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "Fifty four," goes the joke. "Eight to argue, one to get a continuance, one to object, one to demur, two to research precedents, one to dictate a letter, one to stipulate, five to turn in their timecards, one to depose, one to write interrogatories, two to settle, one to order a secretary to change the bulb, and 29 to bill for professional services."

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Eh, not so funny, notes Maurine Holland, a lawyer in midtown Memphis, Tenn. - and it has nothing to do with her anymore. Yes, she is a lawyer. But not that kind.

"People would call me the pit bull," recalls Ms. Holland of her life in the courtroom up until a few years ago. "But then I had a transformation."

Holland's transformation has led her to join a small but growing group of lawyers, judges, and educators who practice law holistically - working to empower and heal themselves and their clients and to spread civility and good will. In the world of holistic law, the minds and bodies of the clients are as important as their pocketbooks; losing sometimes means winning in the long run; and words like blame, right, and wrong have no home. It is not, in any case, 54 lawyers around a light bulb.

While each holistic lawyer works in a different way, they draw common inspiration from Eastern traditions, New Age writers, and native American spirituality. Much like holistic doctors who seek to treat the whole patient instead of the symptoms, explains Holland, holistic lawyers think of their clients as complex people in need of counseling, not entities with narrow legal problems.

"Before, even as I was winning lots of money for clients, I was finding they were still not happy," recalls Holland. "My clients were getting compensation - but the anger remained," she says. "So, had I helped?"

Slowly, Holland also began loathing the tough examinations - filled with "provoking, humiliating, and embarrassing the witnesses" - that she was so good at. "I realized, as many of us do, that practicing law that way is horrible and harsh."

Today, as president of the Renaissance Lawyers Society - an organization that supports and educates about holistic law - Holland works out of an old two-story stone house office overlooking a courtyard filled with azalea bushes, and practices in a very different way.

Recently, for example, a client wanted to sue the boss who had suspended him for wearing a T-shirt with an inappropriate message printed on it. The client (working in an office with a dress code) did not have a case, says Holland - but he did have a problem she could help with.

"I look at facts and law, as any lawyer would, but I also take into account other factors, and try to understand a whole person," she says. "I tried to figure out exactly what he had been trying to convey with that T-shirt. He was clearly angry with his boss, but why?"

Holland ended up talking to the client at great length about his emotions. The two role-played and discussed how he might resolve his anger, get professional emotional help, and better his working life. He went home, she says, satisfied.

Other holistic lawyers speak of getting clients facing drunk-driving charges to admit to drinking problems instead of trying to find them legal loopholes; of turning divorce proceedings into healing sessions; of transforming will contests into family fence-mending opportunities; and, even of making bankruptcy cases opportunities for clients to take stock of their lives.