Introduction to the Art of Human-centered Lawyering
Welcome to the new series on The Resilient Negotiator–The Art of Human-centered Lawyering. I’m your host Julian Gresser.
- The 2017 Report of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Well-being and the study, Suffering in Silence, document the health crisis in the legal profession, which includes the misery of many law students. It is a portrait of massive stress, widespread depression, burnout, extensive alcohol and substance abuse; some reports confirm that lawyers today register the 4th highest rate of suicides among the professions. Clearly, our profession is in the grip of a health crisis.
- But, actually, it is more. As the ABA Report itself points out, both explicitly and implicitly, the depression/addiction cycle masks a deeper existential set of choices the profession now faces. To where are we heading as a profession? Cui bono? For whose benefit? In the little time allotted to us on this earth, are we leaving it a happier, more joyful, healthier place for our fellow travelers, heading toward the same ineluctable end? and, also, for our children, grandchildren and future generations? There is now an increasing body of good work by state Lawyer Assistance programs, and indeed in MCLE/CLE courses offered by others across the country that is beginning to address such fundamental questions. I cite some of these courses in this program, and I honor and pay homage to their good work.
- This program explores the “Art” of Human-centered Lawyering, and I want to emphasize at outset that what we will be discussing is both a set of core professional competencies as well as a true art form. It is Art in that these skills lend themselves to mastery by dedicated practice, and also because they draw upon and combine various traditions, including western humanism, Eastern healing and martial arts, and the insights and discoveries of most, if not all of the world’s wisdom traditions, in their classical forms, ie. the KJB, Koran, or the Tao Te Ching, and the teachings of indigenous peoples everywhere.
- The present course is organized in 6 Modules and I would like to draw some threads that run through all of them.
- In Module # 1 attorney Mark Davis in Honolulu, Hawaii, advances a thesis to explain with gratitude the source of his success. He calls it The Happiness Advantage. And his core idea is that Happiness is as much an input as the result of professional success in the law. He describes common sense and compassionate ways to practice this art form, in his current work as a personal injury and social justice litigator, and in the management of his own law firm. His major message is be true to your authentic self. Take on matters that touch you deeply and support your younger associates in cases they feel passionately about. It is a message of hope for attorneys everywhere.
- Module # 2 hones in on the critical issue of character, and introduces a practical tool, the Player Integrity and related BHI/IR profiles as a powerful way to Go Behind the Mask and decipher the code of human behavior. The most important insight is contrary to the fundamental teachings of the ancients, character need not be immutable and fixed. We can learn to refine character and thereby change our destinies. The module provides many practical applications.
- Module # 3 illustrates the themes of happiness and character by exploring several situations that present “tragic,” meaning apparently irreconcilable choices. We introduce examples like the discharge of industrial hexavalent chromium into municipal drinking water systems and the current transformation to a global infrastructure based on 5G, AI, and an Internet of Things. We cite these examples to illustrate our core theme, and also to pose the deeper question of how attorneys, indeed all of us, might think differently about fatal decisions that will truly change the course of our lives.
- Module # 4 introduces another example, the poignant field of effective education and support for children that have special needs. This is a less well trod area of the law but it is remarkable in many ways because it presents a fascinating, limited instance where the forces of kindness and compassion, political vision and good will, backed by strong scientific evidence powerfully align. The Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a Supreme Court decision in Endrews v Douglas County and the practice of some communities all point to one area where society generally, and the legal profession in particular, has a create and effective role to reduce misery and increase the quantum of joy for 7 million children who require special educational attention.
- Module # 5 presents the story of attorney Laurie Besden’s journey into the hell of addiction and her redemption; and it honors her present work in helping thousands of attorneys across this country to redeem themselves from a life of despair, addiction, and hopelessness. We highlight in particular the powerful “move” of Paying Forward, which as we explain started her return journey– a single act of kindness, of Big Heart, by a fellow attorney who mercifully appeared one day when she was first incarcerated from the Pennsylvania Lawyer Assistance program.
- The last section, Module # 6, explores what for some may be the startling idea that Self Care be incorporated within the state bar association Code of Professional Responsibility. Some will argue that self-care is a personal matter, not amenable to mandate or regulation. But, in fact, as all the MCLE courses are urging whether in Mindfulness training or other programs self-care directly affects attorney competence and responsibilities and is already a core part of many current Legal Assistance Programs. The proposed rule may serve to tip the balance, as illustrated in the cases presented.
- It may not take a revolution to change in legal culture. Actually, it can begin with a very small and subtle shift in something as basic as time management. That is for us excessively busy attorneys to insist that we give priority in our daily lives to exploring happiness and the many ways to embody it, as for example, the 5 Minutes to Resilience series we introduce. This modest shift in priorities is not incompatible with professional success. Rather, it may, in fact, as Mark Davis urges, be the key to it.
- I do not view this program on The Art of Human-centered Lawyering as the last word on this subject. Rather, it is only the beginning. As the Art touches every domain of legal practice, I hope some of you who take the time to view and explore this program will contact me, and propose special derivates which we can develop together, highlighting your own work and the special challenges in your field of specialization.
- The ABA Report presents a great cultural challenge for our profession to turn adversity to advantage which is the very essence of Integral Resilience. Let’s all join together in capturing this remarkable opportunity with courage and imagination.
The present course is inspired by two important reports which I commend to all participants. The Art of Human-centered Lawyering offers a pathway through the storm.
- Report of the 2017 ABA Commission on Lawyer Wellbeing (http://lawyerwellbeing.net/introduction/ )
- “Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns” (https://jle.aals.org/home/vol66/iss1/13/)
Suicide Rates Among Attorneys