A New Kind of Law School
A new dialogue on an old command to "heal the world" holds great promise. If we structured legal education around a different purpose, law schools—and the practice of law—would be very different. What might tomorrow’s education be like? Consider this.
Lawyers have always been leading-edge thinkers that ponder the profound and unknowable. I remember, back when I was working on an LLM, visiting historic Philadelphia, where our predominantly lawyer founding fathers were so concerned with freedom of thought they formed a new union where people were held to possess an inalienable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Yet surveys reveal that many lawyers are themselves unhappy—a clear signal that systemic change in the profession would be a good idea. If I had my way, the practice of law—starting with our law schools—would be very different. Can’t we think of a better way?
Looking for a New Horizon Line
There is, in fact, a strong and growing chorus of lawyers searching for new ideas and theories about communication, conflict, collaboration, human motivation and behavior. They are seeking new and better ways to solve problems and overcome conflicts—a new operating paradigm. This movement is represented by, among others, the growing cadre of mediators and ADR practitioners, the Contemplative Law Society, the Restorative Justice movement, the Renaissance Lawyers group and the scholarly law journals publishing articles on mindfulness and meditation.
I work in conflict resolution and live in Washington, D.C., in the midst of so much law making, implementation and adjudication. As a systems thinker, I am motivated by the desire to help others—specifically, by creating environments of agreement and resolution. And the legal profession is the environment in which I choose to work. It is immeasurably important because laws and lawyers touch so many lives at critical junctures.
But it’s not easy work, and not because of the essential character of lawyers themselves. The difficulty is the legal education system. As I see it, law schools teach fertile young minds to filter out emotions and intuition, to look to the past for answers and to engage in activities that promote separations when they should be creating relationships. Lawyers, like physicians and clergy, are usually present in major life transitions. There are great opportunities to make significant impacts on others’ lives, but first we need to change the contexts in which law schools operate.
If only law schools were structured differently, and had a purpose different from the one that dominates today. In the past couple of years, I have become acquainted with Tikkun Magazine and the Tikkun Community founded by Rabbi Michael Lerner. He is a progressive voice who has worked tirelessly for Tikkun olam, the Jewish command to "heal the world." I am now engaged with a group of lawyers who are part of the Tikkun Community. The purpose of the group’s dialogue is to think about changes to our profession such that Tikkun olam would be served. Perhaps applying Tikkun olam to the legal education system would greatly serve our profession in return. Consider what might happen if the following rudimentary mission and values statements for a "Tikkun Law School" became a reality.
The Tikkun Law School Mission Statement
We are a group of concerned lawyer-citizens. We believe critical facts of life in the United States demand action. Two such critical facts are: (1) Our domestic legal system, through accretion, has become compromised in that the work of lawyers has become more a commodity that too often has little to do with justice, and more to do with winning at any cost, while using the legal system as a business tool; and (2) The United States has been increasingly engaged in the process of globalization through exporting our consumer culture without exporting the fundamental value of the rule of law.
To better serve the global population, we solemnly declare and assume the mission of establishing the Tikkun School of Law: Tikkun—to mend, repair and transform the world. To wit:
Every year in law schools across the country, each new generation of future lawyers learns to reproduce societal mistrust by learning that the purpose of law, legal agreements and the legal system is to protect the individual from the Other, that stranger at arm’s length who is out to exploit for his or her self-interests. The Tikkun School of Law begins from the exact opposite premise—that the purpose of law, legal agreements and the legal system is to build a bridge to the Other and to realize our common aspiration for connection. The mission of the Tikkun School of Law is to revolutionize the study and practice of law and help to realize our spiritual nature as social beings in pursuit of mutual affirmation.
This law school will be based on the tradition of Tikkun. We will develop a law school course of study whose objective is to educate lawyers who have the mission of healing the world. Toward that end, the course of study will include: all courses required by ABA standards of accreditation; communication arts; psychology; counseling skills; systems theory; problem solving; creativity; conflict theory and resolution; the arts of agreement; and holism.
The Tikkun Law School Values Statement
Legal education is based on the following shared values:
• The value and sanctity of human life
• Spiritual growth and self-actualization as the highest human aspirations
• The right of every person on Earth to the presence of a social safety net, where basic material needs such as physical safety and security, food, clothing, housing, medical attention and education are present
• Communion, community and communication
• The principle that lawyers are trained to be and are leaders within our civil society
A Vision of the New Law School
With this new kind of mission and these special values, law school education would be a very different thing. There would be substantial time devoted to reflecting, developing values and an individual life purpose, psychology and spirituality. Courses would include problem solving; legal analysis and reasoning; legal research; factual investigation; communication; counseling; negotiation; litigation and ADR; organization and management of legal work; recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas; competent representation; promoting justice, fairness and morality; striving to improve the profession; and self-development.
Lawyers who graduated from such a school could have a profound effect in leading local culture, business organizations, all levels of government, international society and globalization—and, thereby, help to create a world that works for all. It’s an exciting possibility. What do you think?
Stewart Levine (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of ResolutionWorks. He practices and teaches others how to resolve conflict and collaborate effectively.
• Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration by Stewart Levine. Berrett-Koehler, 1998.
• The Book of Agreement: Ten Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want by Stewart Levine. Berrett-Koehler, Fall 2002.
• Creating a World That Works for All by Sharif Abdullah. Berrett-Koehler, 1998.
• Legal Education and Professional Development: An Educational Continuum ("The MacCrate Report"). ABA Section of Legal Education, 1992.
• Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life by Steven Keeva. Contemporary Books, 2002.
• Visit www.resolutionworks.org and www.tikkun.org.