I personally find that the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi expresses my heart’s desire as to how I express my spiritual ideal – The Christ. I found the first part specifically significant when it came time to take a different route in my career. As some might recall, the words of the first paragraph are “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon, where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” Some might think that this is something that is unlikely to be expressed or demonstrated in the legal profession, and for the most part, that might be correct. I do not say that it is impossible, only that it is difficult in an environment or arena that is not conducive for the expression of this principle. After many years as a corporate lawyer and managing attorney, the desire for expression of this principle became stronger and my comfort with the corporate world, weaker. It isn’t that there were no opportunities to express this way of life or values; it was just that in my opinion, the opportunities were few and far between. Yet, I have always said what I have always known to be true, that I am a lawyer by nature as well as training. I could not imagine being anything else.
As the desire to express the sentiments in the prayer of St. Francis grew stronger, I knew that I had to make a change. After much prayer, there were several coincidences or occasions of synchronicity that led me to the Alternate Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) field. I had people whose opinions I trusted, suggest that I try this area as they thought I was a natural, and provided pportunities to help me find out more about it. As I followed up on these and sought training in this specialized area, I received more encouragement and opportunities to practice presented themselves.
As an ADR practitioner, I help people find an alternative to the trial or litigation path, to resolve disputes. As someone put it, I am helping to heal relationships. I am helping people to resolve in a non-adversarial or non-combative way, disputes so that they can get on with their lives and put the matter in dispute behind them in a non-threatening, non-intimidating environment. Since they have a hand in the development of the resolution, they have a hand in their own relationship healing. As a mediator, I facilitate communication between or among the parties and help them to develop a solution that is acceptable to all parties. I do not make judgments or tell any party what to do. I help to create a safe environment for all to vent emotions (with controls of course), and to say all
that they feel needs to be said in order for them to feel that they can now work on a solution and put the matter of the dispute behind them. I have received help from the voice inside all of us that some call “instinct”, in very specific ways that have helped me to assist the parties in the development of a resolution acceptable to all.
In one notable instance, there were several parties in a commercial matter and three attorneys representing the parties. I “knew” that the complaining party was not finished venting, even though the client had been provided sufficient time to do so and had apparently completed all this person had to say. The party’s lawyer felt that the client had completed all that needed to be said also, and was gently trying to move the matter along. I realized the lawyer thought that I did not really have sufficient control at that point since I was letting the client continue. What the lawyer didn’t know was that I knew the client wasn’t finished, even though it appeared to everyone else in the room that the client was finished. Since what I thought was correct, the parties were having difficulties coming to a mutually agreed upon resolution. That is, until out of nowhere (to the other parties) the person that I knew was not finished, made a personal allegation against one of the other parties. All of the attorneys were surprised and looked to me to do something. I was completely calm since I had been waiting for it, although I did not know in advance what “it” was, and was able to get things back on track. In spite of the emotionally charged allegation which called other items affecting the matter in dispute into question, a satisfactory resolution was achieved. In many instances, if there is an emotionally charged situation that might cause a problem, I am aware even before I meet the parties. This has proven very helpful.
I am also a collaborative practice attorney. Collaborative law (also known as Collaborative practice) is a relatively new and rapidly growing area of law that has developed in the Family Law arena and is being extended into the Civil area. In collaborative law, the lawyers work cooperatively together, often with other professionals (therapist, accountants, mental health practitioners, etc.) to work out a resolution for the benefit of all parties, in a non-adversarial way. In this arena I find another way to actualize the prayer of St. Francis in my work.