Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Lawyer as Healer

“Doctors…still retain a high degree of public confidence because they are perceived as healers. Should lawyers not be healers? Healers, not warriors? Healers, not procurers? Healers, not hired guns?”

--Warren Burger, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court (1969-1986)

Lawyers were originally intended to be healers of societal rifts, not zealous courtroom adversaries. We as lawyers should bear this in mind as we conduct our legal practice, regardless of what our area of focus may be. However, in no aspect of the law is such consideration arguably more appropriate than in that of divorce and family law.

Perhaps it is ironic that Warren Earl Burger, the longest serving Chief Justice of the highest court in the land, was a critic of litigiousness. Burger, alarmed by what he perceived as abuse of the court system by attorneys and their clients, was one of the original proponents of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)—i.e., mediation, negotiation, arbitration, collaboration, cooperation—in its ability to unburden a overloaded justice system.

In addressing the American Bar Association in 1984, Justice Burger declared, “Our system is too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for a truly civilized people. To rely on the adversary process as the principal means of resolving conflicting claims is a mistake that must be corrected.”

The Honorable Chief Justice’s concept of the lawyer as healer of human conflicts was not a new one. It is said the first lawyers were not zealous adversaries, but rather peacemakers and advocates for civil order. According to Michigan lawyer, John W. Allen, in his October 2001 Michigan Bar Journal article, lawyers have historically been responsible for preventing battle and peaceably resolving disputes. He notes that in the early 12th century, Henry II systemized earlier experiments of his grandfather, Henry I, by sending his “Court” of traveling justices on regular circuits through his realm in order to substitute the peaceful resolution of disputes for the traditional method of “trial by battle.” The advocates who emerged to represent those appearing at the local court were intended to resolve disputes and not fan them.

Such origin of the lawyer is echoed in Steven Keeva’s 1999 ABA publication, Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, where, according to Chicago attorney turned Notre Dame Law School Dean, turned Catholic Priest, David T. Link, the first lawyers actually appeared back when hunters and gatherers started settling in villages. When disputes would arise over, for example, property rights, the oldest and wisest members of the community were called upon to make decisions regarding the disputes. Soon, others in the community began acting as representatives of the disputants, but such representatives were trying to bring peace back to the community, rather than act as adversaries.

Somewhere along the line, lawyers as a group began straying from their original duty. Reverend Link was honored with the American Inns of Court’s 2009 Professionalism Award for the Seventh Circuit at the Seventh Circuit Judicial Conference in Indianapolis for his life-long demonstration of character and integrity in the legal profession. In receiving this award, Reverend Link commented:

“The ultimate goal of a lawyer is not to “win” but to achieve justice and healing. Just as a doctor can treat or cure a patient without bringing about healing, so, too, can a lawyer win a lawsuit without healing his or her client. And just as a patient can be healed by a doctor even though his or her disease remains uncured, so, too, can the client of a lawyer be healed even if the client’s problem can’t be cured.”

Now more than ever, it is time for lawyers to reclaim their original roles as peacemakers, healers and problem-solvers. For more information on how to have a more mindful, helpful and satisfying law practice, visit, and