Peacemakers and lawyers: synonymous?

Judge using his gavel

Image by IXQUICK via Flickr

Perusing a copy of the ABA‘s GPSOLO magazine, I came across an article focused on attorneys as peacemakers in a family law setting.  With my sister recently divorced, and knowing plenty of attorneys who make their living in divorces, I know that peacemaking is not an easily obtained goal, if it even is a goal at all.  And it’s not necessarily the attorneys’ fault. People are hurt and angry as they enter the divorce process, and the American legal system provides couples with a venue in which to take out the negative emotions on the object of their ire. What they could not work out in marriage, they now look to an authority figure–a judge and the force of law–to resolve for them.

And the attorneys become their hired guns.

But do they need to be?  Not so, says Forrest S. Mosten.  They can provide services that seek to avoid the aggravation of marital problems and instead bring about “peacemaking.”  The title of his article, published in the September 2010 issue of GPSOLO, is “Building a successful law practice without ever going to court.

One of the most interesting pieces of the article, to me, was the role of the litigator as a peacemaker.  Says Mosten:

Peacemaking and litigation are not necessarily incompatible.  Litigators who embrace a peacemaking approach can make a positive difference in the lives of their clients.

It sounds like he is recommending that lawyers shift from being hired guns to being active participants in advising their clients in ways that will bring them greater happiness. (hmm…that sounds like something one of my law professors might spout from her ivory tower…)

Mosten provides five recommendations for making this “positive difference:

  1. Readily agree to requests by the other party to stipulate facts, admissibility of evidence, and other requests to speed up proceedings;
  2. Readily agree to requests for personal accommodations from the other party and counsel for continuances based on illness, children’s needs, work responsibility, and other reasons;
  3. Refuse to take advantage of mistakes committed by opposing parties and counsel;
  4. Refrain from negative personal or sarcastic comments;
  5. At all times advocate for family healing and demonstrate that such an approach is congruent with the interests of the client.

Geez.  It almost boils down to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,”  a maxim found in philosophy and religion from Socrates (“”One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.”) to Taoism (“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”). When you hurt another, you are only hurting yourself.  Sounds kind of Zen, you know?

Of course this doesn’t help you much when the client is hell bent on causing as much pain as possible to their former spouse, but in those situations where the parties are willing to listen to their counsel’s wise advice, it might help to turn down the heat and bring about some peace to both parties, which could only mean a happier ending for all.

Check it out and consider it: what could you do in your practice to be a peacemaker?

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