Journal of Leadership and the Law

Student Notes

Elon Law student Shoshanna Silverberg

"Holistic Thinking" in Support of the Integrative Law Movement

Shoshanna Silverberg L'15

My story is a bit unusual.  I came to law school with a background in policy research and advocacy.  Some of my work in this area was paid – for instance, when I worked as a Human Rights Fellow for the ACLU – and some of it was not – my work as a board member of NARAL, a reproductive rights organization, being a prime example. 

I have lobbied for a range of issues before Connecticut’s General Assembly, served on a number of legislative boards and commissions, researched government programs aimed at reducing both juvenile and adult incarceration and recidivism rates and helped draft evaluation strategies for these programs’ assessment.  One of the most meaningful ways of working in the advocacy field was as a community member of the city of Hartford’s Juvenile Review Board, a court diversion program offered to first time non-serious youth offenders.

Part of what drew me to this type of advocacy is my background in teaching yoga and various other modalities of self-care.  I believe these approaches to health are also approaches to leadership.  My students have included teens in after-school programs, human services professionals suffering from burn-out otherwise known as “compassion fatigue,” and legislators along with their staff.  At this point I should mention -- I also hold a Master of Arts in Holistic Thinking, with a focus on how “holistic thinking” might be practiced in the context of law and public policy.  Picking up from there, what is ‘holistic thinking’ and what has it to do with leadership? 

Holistic thinking has to do with perceiving a bigger picture than what one issue or point of discussion states explicitly.  It’s about being in touch with a larger context of meaning than the finite context of rules and black-and-white morality that many of us tend to perceive.  Holistic thinking encompasses critical awareness of our individual interests and perspectives, and sufficient creativity to perceive the “bigger picture” in ways that open up new channels of communication rather than close them off. 

Holistic thinking allows for solutions that might not otherwise have been contemplated.  In my experience, having “embodied practices” such as yoga and meditation as part of our personal and by extension professional skill set, trains us in being more compassionate, so that our guards against new ideas are not as strongly in place, and frees up our bodies and minds so that that new information can be processed analytically. Engaging in these practices on a regular basis allows us to connect more fluidly with others as well, which facilitates communication and inspires us to “fight” for solutions that are win-win.

These sentiments led me to an externship I did my 1L summer as an Elon Law Leadership Fellow.  It was with the website, which is published by J. Kim Wright, author of the ABA best seller, Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law.  This site is a meeting ground of ideas and news in the world of “Integrative Law.” 

In a nutshell, Integrative Law is a movement that utilizes the concept of holistic thinking in the legal environment.  It describes a practice of law that values the overall wellbeing of clients, as well as that of the practitioner and society.  Steven Keeva, a former ABA Journal editor, has encapsulated the project of attorneys who are part of this emerging field in the following way:

Whether they refer to themselves as holistic lawyers, integrative lawyers, or conscious lawyers—or prefer no label at all—they are all talking about much the same thing: an orientation toward law practice that . . . seeks to identify the roots of conflict without assigning blame; encourages clients to accept responsibility for their problems and to recognize their opponent’s humanity; and sees in every conflict an opportunity for both client and lawyer to let go of judgment, anger, and bias to grow as human beings. (Lawyers as Peacemakers, XXXVI)

Susan Daicoff, Professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law, traces this evolution in law to early mediation and alternative dispute resolution programs that have now been integrated into traditional legal practices.  These types of law practices have already gained widespread acceptance in “mainstream” legal education and have gained considerable traction in the practice of law.  Family law in particular has recognized value in this approach and presents a major area of practice for those who are interested in the health of their clients at the same time as their own bottom lines. 

While many question the economic utility of “cause lawyering” (another term that is frequently used to describe lawyers whose interests revolve around the welfare of society), J. Kim Wright notes that “most law students think you have to choose – either you’re going to make money or you’re going to make a difference.  [But] what business is learning and what lawyers are learning, is that the people making the most difference are often the ones making the most money.”  (Interview, 3/25/13) 

I take these pioneers’ words to heart because whether it’s in the legislative context or in the field of traditional lawyering, the idea that we can work towards making the world a better place and support ourselves financially is something we don’t hear enough about.  It also suggests that it’s possible for us to be advocates for others – helpful, productive advocates – without losing ourselves in the melee that is politics or the rat race of working in a large firm.  And my belief is that the more we can envision holistic praxis as attorneys, the more human we can be in our various approaches to advocacy.  We can be healthier as individuals, and as a field.  In so doing, we can more sustainably affect the health of our legal system and society as a whole.  And this – living our individual lives as examples of what we want to see in the larger world – is leadership.