A CALL TO REFORM THE LEGAL PROFESSION: THE PRACTICE OF NONJUSTICE LAW

What I am saying is that the role of the attorney–in the mind of both the legal profession and the public–must be changed from that of mercenary to that of peacemaker.  When somebody declares in the middle of a fight, “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” this should be taken as a universal signal that peace is sought, not war.  People will often need help in resolving their disputes, and lawyers have much to offer in this regard.  But lawyers should adopt the physician’s oath and avow, “First, do no harm.”

– James P. Kimmel, Jr., from
Suing For Peace: A Guide For Resolving Life’s Conflicts (Without Lawyers, Guns Or Money)

As currently conceived, the justice system and the lawyers and judges who operate it are often successful in restoring money and material possessions to people who have lost them, but they are rarely successful in ending suffering and restoring peace and happiness. The consequences of this failure are not only visited upon those who enter the justice system seeking to have their peace and happiness restored, but upon the lawyers and judges who work within the system, trying their best to do just that.

Studies indicate that lawyers experience the highest incidence of depression of any occupation: 25% of all lawyers experience depression – more than double the rate in the general population. Studies also indicate that although 10% of the general population abuses alcohol, 15% to 18% of attorneys are alcoholics. One study from the Washington State Bar Association found that 21% of the lawyers in that state are addicted to alcohol or other drugs compared with 10% of the general population.

There is much speculation about the sources of all this lawyer disease, dissatisfaction, and addiction. Everything from an increased number of lawyers chasing the same amount of business to a declining sense of professionalism have been offered as possible theories. No studies, however, have looked at the pursuit of justice itself as the source of lawyer unhappiness – or the public’s overall dissatisfaction with the legal profession. To the contrary, lawyers and the public are taught that wounds will be healed and happiness will be restored if more justice is won. Peace, ever illusive, is only one more lawsuit away.

A FLAW IN THE UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION

The underlying assumption within the legal profession and society’s perception of it is that when someone is wronged, their wounds will be healed and their happiness can be restored by pursuing justice. This rests upon the premise that happiness is a finite commodity, like money, that can be taken from one person and given to another. Just the opposite is the case. Happiness is available in infinite supply and comes from within, not without. The pursuit of justice almost always leads to more suffering and unhappiness, not less. Thus, by pursuing justice, lawyers are not seen as heroes who restore happiness to their injured clients, but rather as unwitting villains who increase misery for their clients, themselves, and society as a whole.

The problem is not the intent or the effort. Our country spends $648 billion annually in the pursuit of justice. Thirty-six million court cases are filed annually. Most people enter the legal profession with the genuine hope and belief that they are answering a call to assist those who need healing and help and, generally, to leave the world a better place. Most lawyers give their lives to their work. But the more successful the become in winning justice, the more many of them, and their clients, begin to realize that they are doing more harm than good.

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR REFORMING THE PRACTICE OF LAW

The teachings of nonjustice and The Nonjustice System suggest the need for profound change within the legal profession. The most fundamental change needed is the education of the legal profession and society at large that the pursuit of justice causes suffering and cannot heal wounds or restore happiness. Following from this understanding must be the offering by the legal profession of alternatives that truly do bring about healing and the restoration of happiness. If the legal profession wishes to be of service in restoring the peace of those who have lost it, then we must spend less time pursuing justice and more time, as Gandhi suggested, trying to “unite parties riven asunder.”

Practicing nonjustice law is a means to achieving this noble end. By counseling clients in the principles of nonjustice, and by introducing them to and guiding them through the steps of The Nonjustice System, the legal profession can become what it dreams of being, which is an indispensable force within the world for resolving disputes and restoring peace and happiness. This is similar to the changes seen recently in the medical profession, where the mind-body-spirit movement has caused some physicians to shift their narrow focus from treating diseased organs to supporting overall patient physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Nonjustice is thus a call to the legal profession for a “mind-body-spirit legal movement” – a nonjustice movement – that shifts lawyers’ narrow focus from pursuing justice to promoting overall client material, emotional, and spiritual well being. All of which may seem threatening at first – as it did to the medical profession – but we have Mahatma Gandhi’s experience to help and guide us: “[A] large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby-not even money, certainly not my soul.”

As mentioned, the justice system is sometimes useful in restoring money and material possessions to those who have lost them. But the cost of doing so far exceeds the monetary cost of hiring a lawyer and presenting the case. There are profound costs in terms of suffering and loss of happiness that must be weighed but are rarely considered before embarking upon litigation. Practicing nonjustice law thus means honestly weighing these costs. Lawyers owe it to their clients, society and themselves to disclose all of the true costs that their justice services entail and provide ways to mitigate them. Lawyers owe it to their clients, society and themselves to take the physician’s oath and “first do no harm.”

Lawyers also owe it to their clients to disclose another truth that is often overlooked: The person, organization, or governmental entity that harmed the client is not likely to be the best place to look for healing and happiness–whether material, financial, social, psychological, or spiritual. The perpetrator of the wrong has already proven unreliable and willing to harm the client. More importantly, this perpetrator, even if a large corporation or the government, is truly minuscule in size to the entire world and the universe. The world and the universe create and sustain the client and everything else, including vast and untold amounts of riches of every conceivable form known to mankind. If a lawyer or client demands that only the person(s) or entity(ies) that caused the wrong can and must satisfy the client’s needs, then the client is being shut off from the remainder of the world and the universe–a source as large as infinity itself that could give the client all that is demanded and much, much more.

NONJUSTICE LAW AND SPIRITUALITY

Nonjustice and The Nonjustice System are, of course, spiritual as well as legal constructs. Therefore, lawyers and clients in a secular society may be reluctant to explore them together. This is not, however, a reason for not doing so. First, there is no viable alternative. The pursuit of justice is our undoing, our unhappiness and our misery. Nonjustice is the only way out. Second, if not lawyers, then who?

In our secular society, justice has become our de facto religion. There are 700,000 lawyers in our country, but only 36,000 clergy. Our most sacred mantras of public discourse are “just war”, “demand justice”, “no justice – no peace”, “I want justice”, “bring them to justice” and “justice has been served”. People today look to the justice system for the resolution of their conflicts and the restoration of their happiness in much the same way that people in ancient times looked to religious institutions. This makes sense, because religion itself was the bringer of the law, and because conflict and happiness are metaphysical phenomena that, although capable of manifesting in physical terms, remain in the realm of emotion and thought, not matter. Lawyers are thus metaphysicians, not physicists, despite all attempts to objectify notions of morality and fairness. Hence, lawyers have become the de facto priests of our modern society and judges the de facto popes and prophets, delivering justice to the masses. But we are discovering that justice is a poison that is also capable of killing us.

As a result of all this, we are witnessing the legal profession in the same predicament as the clerical profession of the Christian Church in the sixteenth century: widely despised by the people and seen as unethical liars and thieves bent on bringing misfortune upon them. This is a love-hate relationship, of course. Lawyers today (like priests in olden times) continue to occupy the highest positions in our society. This cannot last, however, if lawyers continue to stand as symbols of suffering rather than redemption. A revolt is at hand, the likes of which may rival the Protestant Reformation in terms of the sweep of the changes wrought. As the misbegotten preachers of the anachronism of justice, lawyers may be the most vulnerable to these changes, but they are also in the best position to take advantage of them, to ensure a favorable outcome and to save their flock. If lawyers fail the public in this endeavor, the public will either turn on lawyers or turn elsewhere. In short, if the legal profession does not embrace the opportunity for reform, it risks becoming irrelevant and even more despised than it already is. A lesson can be taken from the Protestant Reformation. At the time, it appeared to threaten the very existence and relevance of the Christian clergy, but in hindsight we see that it had just the opposite effect. By ending the abuses and thereby becoming a symbol of honesty and hope, it strengthened the clergy and Christianity itself. The same is possible for the legal profession.