VOL. 123 | NO. 91 | Thursday, May 8, 2008
Memphis Law Talk
Holland Uses Holistic Law To Solve Problems Peacefully
By Rebekah Hearn
Name: Maureen T. Holland
Position: Member and owner
Firm: Holland & Associates PLLC
Basics: Holland, who practices in employment law and handles divorces, wills and probate matters, has been practicing holistic law since 2000.
"A lot of law is driven by emotion. So if you understand perhaps some of the emotion that may be at play, you can use that information to assist in solving the current legal problem."
- Maureen T. Holland
Maureen T. Holland, member and owner of Holland & Associates PLLC, has been practicing holistic law since 2000.
She practices mostly in employment law, representing employees, but also handles uncontested or mildly contested divorces, drafting wills and probate matters.
Holistic law, according to the International Association of Holistic Lawyers, aims to "promote peaceful advocacy, encourage compassion, reconciliation and healing, advocate the need for a humane legal process and acknowledge the opportunity in conflict," among other goals.
Holland is on the board of directors for the Renaissance Lawyer Society.
Q: So what is your personal definition of holistic law?
A: It really encompasses two things. One is bringing back into the practice the traditions, or best practices - whether that's civility, the legal counseling that used to be done a lot more than it is now, (or) whether it's more problem solving-oriented work. It also involves integrating problem-solving techniques and approaches that we know from other disciplines. It makes the practice of law multi-disciplinary. Rather than just thinking about law, and the history of law and the precedence of law to solve a problem, you might also look at how are problems solved in the world of psychology, for instance.
A lot of law is driven by emotion. So if you understand perhaps some of the emotion that may be at play, you can use that information to assist in solving the current legal problem. As an example, I had someone who came to me with what appeared to be a legal problem. ... First of all, I had to give them the legal information. In many ways, that's usually the end of the traditional legal approach. You give them the legal information, you tell them what they need to know, and they go on their merry way.
Well, a holistic approach may be to ask a couple more questions. ... That's a lot further involvement and a lot more thought and time than simply saying, "You don't have a case."
One of the things that is coming out in terms of the empirical data is that clients are often more interested in non-economic solutions than in economic solutions; that is to say it's more than just the money. And if the lawyers are solely focused on getting money for the client as a solution, then they're not necessarily creating satisfied clients, because what the clients are looking for is something more than just the money - for example, an apology.
Q: Do you see genuine benefits among your clients from that type of practice?
A: I do, because when I used to practice more traditionally, it was very rare for my clients to say to me, "I really love the way you helped me, or appreciated what you've done." (Now) I hear consistently that it was the best money they've ever spent - which is not something you would ever expect someone to tell a lawyer.
Clients would tell me their prayers had been answered by my helping them - again, not something you're anticipating from a lawyer. I will get presents, on occasion, in addition to the fee. I will get notes of gratitude and cards sent to my office. You would expect if I won a big case and they got a lot of money, sure, they would bestow many a gift upon me. But these are much smaller, maybe cases where there was no money involved in the solution. And yet, I'll get a card of gratitude. And this is consistent, it's not an every once in a while kind of thing.
Q: Would you say that law, in the way that it is practiced today, is generally hostile?
A: I really (would say) it's more adversarial. I do believe that. Unfortunately, the lawyers come out of the traditional practice of law, and the way it's taught in law school, it's fairly confrontational and adversarial. And that's often how you begin your law school experience, by professors engaging in a sort of confrontational approach with you as a student. An adversarial approach is ... certainly the dominant style you see on television and in the movies. We're finding that it's this very adversarial approach that is causing many of the problems that the profession is experiencing - including very high levels of substance abuse, dissatisfaction among lawyers and the fallout from that. It is exhausting to be engaged in what is essentially a battle with other attorneys. So I think there's a lot to be said for a more peaceful, more civil, more information method of problem solving.
Q: What are the goals of the Renaissance Lawyer Society?
A: Primarily education about the way the law is already transforming. It's not even necessarily that some people have this as their agenda; it's simply the way law is currently evolving, because people are tired of the adversarial approach and they're looking for other solutions. And that's the purpose of the board. (The society) has a very informative Web page (www.renaissancelawyer.com) about the different approaches being used by attorneys. In some cases, it's what has been done for more than a couple of decades. It's not new; it's new to Memphis, but it's not overall brand new. So we're bringing back the best practices, but also using the information we've gleaned from technology where we share information rapidly among disciplines.
Q: What role do you think lawyers should play in today's society?
A: Peacemakers and problem solvers. I do think the law as a method of problem solving ... gives us a unique opportunity not only to solve minor problems, but major problems, like those between countries. We have the opportunity to impact a large portion of society in helping them to learn the skills to problem solve. Not all problems have to be litigated to be solved, and you don't have to use force to solve problems. The law and the creative thinking, with the help of lawyers (and) mediators, can solve even larger, more global problems. And I think that's important to even consider - because if you consider it, then it opens the ways in which that might be accomplished.