How Collaborative Legal Practice Led the Way to Integrative Law

Deep Resolution is More Than a Piece of Paper

Any lawyer who engages seriously in collaborative legal negotiations learns pretty quickly  that traditional legalistic positional bargaining is pointless, because predictions about court results lose their force when neither lawyer can take the matter to court to find out if they are right.  Enter “client centered, interest based negotiations.”  It’s fair to say that no lawyer can succeed in collaborative negotiations without mastery of that approach to settlement of legal disputes.

But clients’ needs during divorce include a lot more than that:  child development information, financial planning, communications skills training, basic financial education, and the many other functions that an integrated interdisciplinary team can provide.  Once mental health and financial professionals join lawyers in collaborative team practice, we are able to facilitate  not just paper settlements, but deep and durable resolution.

Does the interdisciplinary team model represent the pinnacle of collaborative settlement practice? Yes and no.  A skillful, trust-based interdisciplinary  collaborative team is a human system in which dynamic interactions that happen in the moment can transform not only the clients’ problem solving abilities but also the professional team members’ capacities for facilitating constructive conflict resolution.  We grow and learn from our own mistakes with the help of every other member of the system.

It’s a short step from there to appreciating that conflict resolution isn’t just about the clients and their issues.  It’s also, inevitably,  about ourselves.  Any legal negotiation process calls into being a human system consisting of lawyers, their clients, and the other professionals involved in the problem solving team.  Who is the person that enters the room when we ourselves participate in collaborative negotiations?  How deep is our self awareness, our mindfulness of what facilitates resolution and what triggers defensive reactivity?  How much work have we done to deepen our own non-defensive communication skills?  How well do we understand the neuroscience and social psychology of conflict as we humans experience it?

All this and more is the realm of Integrative Law, which isn’t just for family lawyers.  The old categories of family, probate, tort, and contracts law may work for law school courses that teach analytic lawyering skills,  but they don’t match the painful human experiences our clients bring into our law offices.  Our clients  don’t experience a contract dispute; they bring us the financial consequences of a fractured human relationship with a person who last year was a friend and business partner but this year somehow has become an enemy.  They don’t experience a probate dispute; they bring us financial issues growing out of death of a loved one that somehow, magnetically, are pulling the surviving relatives into different corners in an emotion-fueled battle with roots in decades of dysfunctional family history.

We are beginning to understand that lawyers are the designated professional helpers for practical problems that arise when a broad spectrum of deeply emotional human relationships fall apart.  If we lawyers address those profoundly human conflicts using only the rational, argumentative, analytic tools we learned in law school, we may win legal victories but in the process we may do incalculable and avoidable collateral damage to our clients, whose lives may continue in that family, business, or community long after our files are closed.

ILI was founded to teach new understandings and skills from neurobiology, neuro-economics, positive and social psychology, body-mind awareness practices, and much more, to all lawyers who work with clients experiencing the practical problems that arise from ruptures in important human relationships at home, at work, and in the community.

Our continuing education programs for lawyers and their colleagues roll out this fall.  To receive announcements of early enrollment discounts,  join ILI’s mailing list by writing to

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