Lawyers as Changemakers: The Global Integrative Law Movement

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This post is about a book called Lawyers as Changemakers: The Global Integrative Law Movement.  It is by J. Kim Wright.  She has travelled the world meeting lawyers trying the change how people practice law. The book is about lawyers who work on criminal justice issues, environmental causes, contracts and many other things. The book talks about Structured Negotiation.  This is the cooperative problem solving strategy that Lainey Feingold has used for more than twenty years. The method has helped make technology and information more usable by blind people.

book cover: Lawyers as Changemakers

The New York Times ran a powerful obituary on July 26, 2017 about an unsung woman who devoted her life to inmates on death row. Scharlette Holdman, a Force for the Defense on Death Row, Dies at 70. Not a lawyer, Holdman was hired to teach defense teams “how to persuade jurors and prosecutors to spare the lives of men and women convicted of heinous crimes.”

Her work, according to the obituary, is now part of the American Bar Association’s guidelines for death penalty defense lawyers.

I’ve never been a criminal defense attorney, but as a civil rights lawyer I was moved by the story of Holdman’s advocacy and commitment. But as someone who has devoted her career to collaborative problem solving and building relationships with would-be adversaries, one line of Holdman’s obituary jumped out at me.

Quoting death penalty lawyer James Lohman, who worked closely with Holdman, the obituary writer described those who sought to emulate Holdman’s career in lessening (mitigating) the harshest punishment of all:

Many mitigation specialists who followed in her footsteps are journalists and social workers. ‘It’s the antithesis of being a lawyer; it’s all about human feeling and connection,’ Mr. Lohman said.

Is that true? Is human feeling and connection the “antithesis” — the opposite — of being a lawyer? I don’t think so. And neither does J. Kim Wright or the hundreds of lawyers mentioned in her compelling book, Lawyers as Changemakers: The Global Integrative Law Movement.

What is Integrative Law?

Wright does not offer a pat definition of Integrative Law – because there is none. She anticipates the question though, and starts the book by asking, What is Integrative Law? Among the definitions:

Integrative law is a context for law, more of a lens than a practice area. .. Integrative Law [has] to do with seeing the legal system as an interconnected system of human beings.


Integrative Law is a new wave of legal practices…to serve the same needs and purposes as the conventional legal system, but to do so in a way that is far more likely to generate productive outcomes, heal broken relationships .. . turning conflict into an opportunity to co-create a better world for all.

In other words, Integrative Law is, in fact, about human feeling and connection.

Who are Integrative Lawyers

Wright’s book is partly an edited collection of writings by integrative lawyers across the globe, and partly Wright’s account of yet other lawyers welcomed in her big tent.

Who can you find in the book’s 400 plus pages?

  • Burning Man’s top lawyer Raymond Allen writing about the importance of collaboration when dealing with the many state and local agencies whose cooperation is needed for permits and more when 70,000 people come to the city in the desert that is Burning Man each year
  • Alexander McLean, founder of The African Prisons Project whose goal is “Ensuring that the rule of law, human rights and equal access to justice is promoted, respected and fulfilled across prison communities.”
  • Texas contract lawyer and big thinker Linda Alvarez who has developed a way to negotiate contracts that recognizes true interests and relationships, and who has authored her own integrative law book titled Discovering Agreement.
  • Tania Motta Nogueira Reis, a Brazilian lawyer who starts her piece in the book explaining that she has been engaging with lawyers around the globe since the early nineties “disagreeing about the rigidity of the law practices taught in the universities abroad,” and “wanting more kindness in relation to law and with our clients.”
  • Catholic nun and lawyer Sister Simone Campbell, founder of Network, Advocates for Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters.

Hundreds of other lawyers are featured or mentioned the book – practicing all types of law from environmental to business to criminal defense. They just might change the way you think about lawyers; the way the profession thinks about itself. And for sure they will shine a light on different strategies and approaches for the next generation of legal practitioners.

(If you want more inspiration about how a profession can change, check out my review in BeyondChron of Wright’s 2010 book, Lawyer as Peacemaker.)

How Does Structured Negotiation Fit In?

Wright graciously included Structured Negotiation in her round-up of integrative lawyering around the globe. I’m glad she did. Structured Negotiation is a collaborative, problem-solving approach to law that has been used for two decades to improve access to information and technology for the blind community. It is a method with discreet elements that can be replicated in other fields of law.

As I write in my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, practicing law without lawsuits has taught me that lawyers can be advocates and peacemakers. That being friendly can go hand in hand with strong client representation. That relationships matter, a core tenet woven throughout the wide variety of integrative lawyers captured in Wright’s book.

The conclusion of my book is titled “Widening the Tent.” In it I take my hat off to Wright and her years of creating the global Integrative Law Movement:

Structured Negotiation is not the only outstretched hand in the legal profession. Many forms of collaboration are taking root as clients and lawyers demand less adversarial ways to resolve claims. …Together these initiatives are referred to as integrative law, a broad tent that welcomes new visions of what the law can be.

Author, attorney, and activist J. Kim Wright has been nurturing and documenting the strands of this movement for a decade, publishing two books on collaborative legal approaches around the world.63 These alternatives avoid litigation whenever possible, focus on solutions, and bring together stakeholders in constructive dialogue. Structured Negotiation has a place in this growing and vibrant ecosystem.Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, p. 195

I hope people will read Lawyers as Changemakers. And I hope that one day, “human feeling and connection” will be a term that jumps to mind when thinking about lawyers both in the United States and around the world.