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Disorder in the Courts

Discusses holistic law, a new approach to resolving legal conflict. Comparison to the adversarial type of legal practice symbolized by lawyers like Harvard University's Alan Dershowitz; Comments from holistic advocates Ruth A. Synder and David G. Mawn; Additional observations.

THEY'RE NOT CALLED BOMBERS for nothing--high-powered lawyers ritualistically obliterating the other side. Head of the squadron may be Harvard's Alan Dershowitz, elevated by book and film (Reversal of Fortune) into the pantheon of American heroes in the litigious '80s.

Critics believe their high fees and cut-throat tactics have themselves become in. justices. Lately, the excesses of the adversarial system are troubling increasing numbers of their own.

Enter holistic law, a new approach to resolving legal conflict. Much like the movement in medicine, the holistic approach to law treats the client as a whole, considers mental, emotional, and spiritual as well as physical aspects. Lawyers view themselves less like hired guns than as helping hands.

"The legal system needs to be a part of the healing process--not the baseball bat you use to inflict pain on someone else," say holistic advocates Ruth A. Snyder and David G. Mawn. Though adversarial tactics are preached in law schools, they would replace the bitter win-or-lose of the courtroom with a win/win approach.

Holistic law takes effort by client as well as lawyer. Lawyers need to keep clients informed every step of the way. Clients have to fully share their problems and insist that all legal options be explained thoroughly. It's a matter of the clients taking control and demanding that lawyers understand and explain, says Mawn, staff attorney for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund in Barbourville, Kentucky. "The lawyer has to stop being the parent and the client stop being the child."

Once lawyer and client are a team, they can figure out what the client really wants and the best way to get it. That rarely means nailing the other guy. Practicing holistic law, with clients' Personal needs at heart, lawyers more likely reach settlements that satisfy both parties-and keep court (and costs) at bay.

Originally a warrior lawyer specializing in divorce, Ruth Snyder converted to holism when she realized how often divorce rulings generate unnecessary bitterness in an already bleeding family. Rather than go for the jugular, she tries to reach custody agreements a mother and father can both live with. Member of a Peoria, Illinois, law firm, she sees holistic law also for bankruptcy, debt collection, and landlord/tenant disputes.

People typically feel "lawyers are conniving pit bulls--unless they're working for me," observes Mawn. He hopes law will change how it teaches and clients change their expectations. After all, lawyers should serve justice.