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May 2017

How integrative law can benefit your practice and your clients

One of the many trends swirling around the practice of law is the “integrative law movement.”

Integrative lawyers use a variety of perspectives to find more peaceful ways of resolving conflicts and to focus on values-based solutions. At its core, writes author J. Kim Wright, integrative law seeks to enrich the practice of law, the legal system, lawyers and clients.

Wright is the editor and publisher of, a collection of videos, courses and other materials about integrative law. A graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, she is the author of the new ABA book, “Lawyers as Changemakers: The Global Integrative Law Movement.” This follows her earlier book, “Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law.”

Integrative lawyers “reflect on their motivations, their purposes and the human condition” and bring their “whole selves (body, mind, soul and emotions) to work together to create a better legal system,” Wright writes.

“Integrative law isn’t just an approach to legal procedures. It has to do with a fundamental shift in worldview, an expansion of what we think is possible,” she adds. “Integrative lawyers explore and draw upon many disciplines and wisdom traditions, such as philosophy, science, psychology and spirituality. They bring their consciousness into the law and are partners with colleagues in other disciplines.”

Wright points to Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi as historical examples of integrative lawyers, and of the many current examples, she says: “The work [of CNN commentator] Van Jones is doing with humanizing both sides of the political movement seems pretty integrative to me.   Gerry Spence is known for integrating the personal into his trial college.”

YourABA caught up with her to find out more.

How did the concept of integrative law begin?

For me, it began in 1994, when I was discouraged by the legal profession. But then I heard Chicago lawyer Forrest Bayard talking about granting dignity to everyone involved in a legal matter. He was a family lawyer who helped his divorce clients remain friends so they could raise their children amicably. Intrigued, I had to learn more.  Forrest introduced me to Stu Webb, the founder of Collaborative Law.

Stu led me to the 1999 conference of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers. I threw myself into learning and sharing all I could about what was unfolding.  I began to see and showcase the emergence of a new paradigm of law.

In 2011, restorative mediator Ken Jaray and I convened 30 leaders from problem-solving courts, legal education, collaborative law, restorative justice, sharing law and contracts. We came together without preconceived agendas, not much structure, just a commitment to explore where it might go. Someone suggested that we should brand ourselves, and I was surprised that the name “Integrative Law” was so quickly suggested and accepted by consensus. We liked that “integrative” was being used in medicine and that it described what we were doing.  It resonated with the way we approached our work as well as the personal development that shaped it.

Then, in August, 2013, the ABA Journal published an article with the headline: “Is the integrative law movement the next ‘huge wave’ for the legal profession?”

Can any lawyer be an integrative lawyer?

Any lawyer can become an integrative lawyer. We have common values:  listening, compassion, dignity, inclusivity, being relational, happiness, well-being and love.  We’re inclined to focus on the future. Our values have influenced what we do and how we practice.

If those are your values and you have found a way to practice in alignment with them, you may already be an integrative lawyer and not know it.

What are some first steps that lawyers can take to become integrative?

For many lawyers, the path to integrative lawyering begins with contemplative practices like meditation or yoga, often with the goal of addressing the stress and unease of practicing law in a way that doesn’t fit.

Of course, not all integrative lawyers meditate, but most integrative lawyers do critically reflect on the legal system.  What is the purpose of law?  What is my purpose as a lawyer? Is the legal process therapeutic?  Does my role as lawyer express my values? Is the process aligned with my clients’ values? 

As these questions are answered, many lawyers are excited to realize that they can make a difference in a systemic way, even if working in their own law practice.   They begin to shift their practices and seek out others who have found ways to make it work.

New models are created or adapted to provide more choices.   For many, the new models provide the path to staying in the legal profession and being a healthy, happy person.

What do you say to skeptical lawyers who dismiss this as New Age mumbo-jumbo?

I laughed at this question.  I might have asked it myself at the time I was graduating from law school.

Our profession tends to be conservative. Many lawyers see any change as threatening to the status quo, to the precedents we are all taught to revere.  I remember when the fax machine was seen as a trend that wouldn’t last.  (Well, that was true but not for the reasons the doubters thought!)

Meditation, yoga, personal growth, even mediation used to be viewed with suspicion.

Many ideas that were labeled as “New Age” in the past are now mainstream. Change is happening and lawyers are innovating, even if we are afraid. Most local bars have lawyers who teach yoga and state bar conferences routinely have speakers on mindfulness.  Nobody even thinks mediation is weird any more. Collaborative law and restorative justice are practiced in thousands of communities. Problem-solving judges (integrative, multi-disciplinary, therapeutic) now preside in 3,000-plus courts in the U.S. and some 20 countries. Lawyers are being asked to work in the conscious business movement and our clients are demanding that our business models change.

How have lawyers who have switched to the integrative approach benefited from it?

Integrative lawyers are happier and healthier.  Prof. Susan Daicoff’s research began with psychological research about depression, addiction and dysfunction, common hazards of conventional law practice, and she noticed they were not so common in Comprehensive Law.  Larry Krieger’s work shows that lawyers who practice with a sense of purpose are happier.

Some lawyers have told me that they actually make more money.  Their clients are surprised and pleased to learn that lawyers can be problem-solvers, peacemakers and healers of conflicts.  They not only sing the praises of their lawyers, they pay their bills.

How can law schools incorporate integrative law?

Integrative law is based on the values of the future, and law students, more than anyone, need to be prepared for what is coming.

Acknowledging that law is changing and sharing that information with law students is a step forward.  Some innovative law schools are offering courses in the integrative models and many of my integrative colleagues are invited to speak at law schools around the world.  For many law students, learning about the new approaches helps them to see that they can actually practice law.

I’m especially encouraged when I see law schools offering opportunities for law students to inquire into their own values and purpose and to tie that to their career. Larry Krieger’s work has shown how law students shift from an intrinsic value system to an extrinsic one, that is, from measuring what is important to themselves to measuring the prestige of a corner office or a job at a Wall Street firm. Returning to more personal values leads to a more satisfying career and life.  Several books, including The Happy Lawyer, offer tips and strategies.

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