Law with Heart: What is Integrative Law?
Where did Integrative Law start and how is it different from traditional legal practice? PLUS: How to find an Integrative Lawyer near you
06 September 2021
A new legal system. A fundamental shift. And countless thousands joining the movement. If you’ve ever been mystified, disheartened, shocked or shamed by our legal system, you should be asking a new question: What is Integrative Law?
Now, our legal system might seem unchangeable at first. It feels so old and “stable”, a “fact of life” like death and taxes. But questioning it is exactly what a large group of people around the world are doing – you might have heard words like restorative justice, collaborative law, or therapeutic jurisprudence. And it all comes not from one place but an independent global movement.
(And, if you’re wondering why that’s special, just take a look at what happens when traditional lawyers resist change a little too fiercely.)
Also, join us as we ask: is there a lack of empathy in law?
What is Integrative Law?
It’s the collective name for a worldwide movement of legal professionals (Integrative Lawyers) who are rethinking and exploring what the law is and what its function should be in society. And it’s not merely academic, lawyers and practitioners around the world have started exploring new avenues and thinking around the law services they offer in their practices.
Why? Well, no matter which way you look at it, there’s something that doesn’t sit right with a lot of people around how our traditional legal systems function.
What’s wrong with our legal system?
Hard as it is to break something so complex down to a core concept, one can say that the whole system exists to uphold justice and see that it’s done. And a very prominent way the system views justice is to help determine who’s right and wrong in a given situation. Laws guide and legal processes help prove it when it’s disputed. Right?
And it’s not only in courts. Even legal documents and agreements are already drawn up with the goal of eventually being as defensible as possible, so it’s already adversarial in trying to predetermine the “winner”. (Read more on what’s wrong with the adversarial nature of the law.)
But is that really still enough?
See, the current legal system only tells us who wins and loses, but doesn’t bring closure or a true resolution. Sure, the judge might order someone to pay, but it doesn’t heal the wounds. Or ensure whatever happened won’t happen again. Just like you might convict and sentence a criminal, but that doesn’t change their behaviour to ensure that when they get out they won’t just do the same thing again.
Enter the Integrative Law movement
And that’s what integrative law is about. How can we really use the law to create peace, healing, transformation and prosperity?
How can the law be more holistic? Can it serve society better? How can we use the law to not only bring order but actually create a better world for everyone?
Note: The deficiency in the current legal system is a HUGE topic. So we’re going to be exploring it in several blog posts over the next few weeks. Please join us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing new insights every week.
The history of Integrative Law
It didn’t start in any one place or time. As author and Integrative Lawyer J. Kim Wright notes she had already been seeking more innovative peacemaking practices in her own legal practice for some 19 years by 2008, when she heard about like-minded lawyers around the world doing the same thing for maybe even longer.
So, J Kim Wright sold her house and became a legal nomad to travel America and later the world. She interviewed these colleagues and peers, to see how they do things. There’s an amazing collection of over a decade’s videos on this YouTube channel.
In 2011, a group of lawyers, judges, students and legislators held a summit to explore ways of approaching the law. And it was at this gathering that the term Integrative Law was born.
About Integrative Lawyers
Integrative Lawyers are very diverse (you’ll find them in every corner of the world). They are joined together by a golden thread that is built on four basic pillars, according to the movement’s global website:
- Integrative Lawyers are reflective – they don’t just do, they ask why and explore the real reasons behind things.
- They are guided by purpose and values – in an industry largely tainted by prestige and money, Integrative Lawyers want to deliver legal services in alignment with their own values and principles.
- Integrative Lawyers are system thinkers – while the legal field is often intentionally myopic in its approach, Integrative Lawyers look wider, trying to see the interconnectedness between things.
- They want to bring change – it’s not just about legal procedures, it’s about finding ways to make the law more accessible and workable.
Also discover the people behind the movement in our post: Who are Integrative Lawyers?
Discover the 9 shared values of Integrative lawyers.
How Integrative Law benefits clients (and legal practices)
While a traditional lawyer will do their best to help you “win”, an Integrative Lawyer would rather spend extra time on making sure that every party feels heard, understood and represented (maybe so the matter never even goes to court).
For example: A traditional lawyer might draw up an Antenuptial Contract (ANC) or Cohabitation Agreement in such a way as to give their client the best possible chance of coming off better in the divorce or the end of the relationship. But an Integrative Lawyer will add in extra time and processes to help facilitate a deeper understanding of each party’s needs, and then find ways to help support the future relationship. Integrative Lawyers are relational and strive to help people to build relationships.
And, as you can imagine, it takes a little more than legal know-how to do that. This is why Integrative Lawyers often don’t work alone. They’ll have a whole team of social workers, psychologists, and professional support from all different fields behind them. (That’s where the “integrative” part of integrative law comes from. It’s legal but combined with a whole range of supporting skills, professions, and disciplines.) Many Integrative Lawyers are qualified mediators, coaches and are continually focused on their own personal development.
The whole idea is to create a more holistic system through their services.
(See for example our extended professional circle on the About Milkwood page.)
It’s not just about winning and losing. It’s about really figuring out how we can work and live better, together, in service to a more peaceful world.
Finding an Integrative Lawyer near you
There are Integrative Lawyers all around the world. And you can get more information about these forward-thinking legal services near you from the global website.
And, based in South Africa and the United Kingdom, you’ll find a proud Integrative Legal practice in Milkwood.
From Conscious Contracts® to Antenuptial and Cohabitation Agreements, to Conscious Parting. Wills and Legacies – Milkwood even offers Training and Workshops on how to build your own Integrative Law practice. See our Integrative Legal Services.
At MIlkwood, we are peacemakers and problem-solvers who want to help make the law a positive experience for our clients. We’re all about compassion, caring, continuous learning, humour, integrity, listening, trust and wellbeing.
You might call us a legal practice with heart.
And we’d love to share in your journey.