ILI is looking for a volunteer or intern

Help the Integrative Law Institute Transform Law Into a Humanistic Profession

The Integrative Law Institute is looking for a college student or recent graduate who would like to build a strong resume by volunteering with ILI as it launches its programs to teach lawyers humanistic, integrative conflict resolution skills that really help clients solve problems so that they stay solved.

Retaining a lawyer can be as anxiety-inducing as going to the dentist or signing into a hospital. The fears are realistic: lawyers often quite unintentionally cause serious harm to human relationships at the same time that they win legal victories for their clients. ILI means to bring the job definition of a lawyer into the 21st Century by teaching practicing lawyers a more humanistic way of working with people whose legal issues arise out of fractured human relationships.

We are in fund-raising mode and will be offering our first continuing education programs in the fall of 2012. ILI is on the leadership crest of profound change within the legal profession. If you want to make a real difference and have about ten hours a week to work with us on social networking and fundraising, we will return the favor by giving our intern or volunteer a strong reference and networking assistance in  job search efforts.

Potential volunteer/interns should have:

  • strong computer, web and social networking skills
  • fluency in written and oral communications
  • a confident, poised manner on the telephone
  • intellectual curiosity and a sense of humor
  • interest in law and/or conflict resolution and/or social change
  • a creative, original problem solving approach
  • at least ten hours a week to contribute to ILI work
  • high standards for accuracy, responsibility, follow-through
  • some background in psychology or communications is helpful but not essential

ILI cannot pay a salary or its equivalent but can provide a small stipend to defray expenses.

Work can be done at our office in Mill Valley, CA or at your own computer.

How to apply

Email to, explaining why you would like to do this job and what you have to bring to this endeavor. If you have a resume, please include it.

Physical Health May be At Risk When Legal Conflict Resolution Settlements Create “Haves” and “Have Not’s”

I often use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a tool in my conflict resolution courses and workshops for lawyers.  It posits that before anyone can attend to higher-level needs such as love, belonging, esteem, and realizing dreams, the lower level needs (survival needs like food, shelter, clothing, followed by safety) have to be satisfied.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

When we negotiate settlement agreements on behalf of clients in relational disputes (e.g. divorce, will contests, small business dissolutions) whose lower-level needs are adequately met by any reasonable measure, it can sometimes be perplexing for lawyers to appreciate the degree to which some  clients focus not on the sufficiency of their own resources but on the gap between what they will end up with as compared to the other party or parties in the dispute.

A recent article in the New Scientist explains how health and relative wealth may be directly linked in unexpected ways.

Thomas McDade, a biological anthropologist at Northwestern University and director of Cells to Society at the Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research in Evanston, Illinois, says that additional research [shows]. . .” that even if you have a stable job and a middle-class income, then your health is not as good as that of someone who is in the 1 per cent. There is something more fundamental about social stratification that matters to health and the quality of social relationships.”

The issues of relative poverty are more nuanced than meeting basic needs for food and shelter. A hundred years ago it might have been whether you could afford to eat meat once a week – or have an indoor toilet. Today it might be whether you can afford to mark your child’s birthday with a party, Marmot  [Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London specialising in the health effects of inequality] says. “It matters because of what it means: can I participate in society?”

The great divide

Relative poverty goes hand in hand with inequality. “What we find is that the bigger the inequalities, income, educational, social, in a whole variety of ways, the bigger the health inequalities,” Marmot says.

The key is that having less than your peers seems to generate stress, at least at the level of large groups. And many studies over decades draw a straight line between stress and disease.

“How does having less relative to your peers undermine health? Study after study identifies the culprit as stress. Not day-to-day fretting, but persistent psychological and physiological reactions to external threats that cannot necessarily be addressed or avoided. Much of this research focuses on those living in impoverished communities, but these associations only diminish by degree as you ascend the economic ranks of a society. “Socioeconomic status, and social stratification in particular, is a very powerful determinant of health – for populations and for individuals,” says McDade.

Toxic stress

Unrelenting stress is toxic because it can turn the body’s defence system against itself. Neuroendocrinologist Bruce McEwen at Rockefeller University in New York says the stress response that evolved to protect us from harm can be hijacked and actually cause harm when the stress never abates. In a normal situation, the introduction of stress causes the body to deliver a boost of energy – by sending a surge of glucose to the muscles – and to increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing to get oxygen to the muscles in a hurry. At the same time, blood vessels constrict and clotting factors increase – ready to slow bleeding in case you are wounded. These responses are part of a fight-or-flight survival kit, and once the stress has passed, these should subside.

But for people under unremitting stress, this response never quite switches off – leaving sugar levels unregulated, high blood pressure, increased risk of blood clots, depressed sex drive and an immune system buckling under the strain. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can have other effects as well, including affecting the brain by altering the structure of neurons and their connections, which in turn can influence behaviour and change hormonal processes.”


How can we apply these ideas to conflict resolution work?

What applies at the macro level may well apply also at the  level of individuals in their families and communities and in the negotiating room.  These ideas are worth thinking about as a tool for educating parties to a conflict about interests that may live below awareness but nonetheless are in the room affecting the negotiating process.  Surfacing the issue certainly won’t worsen the problem, and may help parties to hear one another more empathically.

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

Living and Working in your Full Self: a Very Accessible Mindfulness Tool for Conflict Resolution Professionals

Did you ever get up from your desk after a long day of drafting documents, batting back emails, and talking on the phone with clients and other lawyers,  to discover that you are exhausted in both body and mind, noticing only then how much stress and tension your body is carrying? Sore back, stiff neck,  aching shoulders, weary spirit…..those seem to come with the turf of legal conflict resolution work.  The way I think of this is that I’ve spent another day living in my neocortex. Forgot again to remember that I am a fully embodied human primate with a triune brain that can bring far more than pure reason to the table. Forgot about embodied emotion as a tool and resource. Forgot I even have a body, below my neck. Forgot about how stress diminishes my creativity, my ability to empathize and to harvest valuable cues from interactions with others.

Maybe you do that, too? Here is an idea that I’m finding to be useful: offers free trials of several different applications that will pop up on your screen for a few seconds at intervals you set, reminding you to stop, breathe deeply, become aware of your body, notice your sense perceptions, let go of specific tension points.  Slightly longer stillness moments prompt with simple mindfulness/awareness exercises for letting go of thoughts and relaxing both body and mind.  If the pop-ups arrive at really inconvenient times,  one click makes them disappear immediately.  

I’m noticing that I like these mindfulness moments most when I least need them, and least when I most need them. That in itself is food for thought.

Self-Scan, Stealth Scan, and Conflict Resolution


Imitation is basic to human behavior.

It’s long been understood by social psychologists that mimicry is part of who we are as humans.  We copy the body language, gestures, and facial expressions of those around us without meaning to, or even knowing we are doing it.  While doing routine tasks, we copy simple gestures being intentionally primed by a stranger sitting next to us, like touching our face or tapping our foot.  We mimic those we care about  more than those we don’t know, and people we perceive as being like ourselves more than people we perceive as different.  We mimic more when we feel connected to others, or when others are important to us, or when we want to affiliate with others.  Mimicry creates, reflects and strengthens social bonds.

Neuroscientists researching the new frontier of mirror neurons are beginning to understand how and why our brains do this and how central mimicry seems to be to everything that makes us human.  (Check out this stunning Ted talk by neuroscientist V. Ramachandran that will take you on a ten minute intellectual journey about mirror neurons, from functional brain imaging  through the evolution of language and culture to the meeting point of neuroscience and Buddhist thought.)

We can recruit  this core human primate behavior as a tool for deeper, more intentional and effective engagement with conflict resolution practice. For example, according to a review of the literature by a team of social psychologists, in one study, adult participants

 ” who were subtly mimicked by a confederate liked that confederate more and had smoother interactions with that confederate. [And,] the developmental psychology literature documents evidence that infants react more favourably towards adults who imitate them than adults who do not (Meltzoff 1990; Asendorpf et al. 1996). “

Other studies have confirmed that being imitated not only enhances liking and rapport, but also induces more pro-social behavior.  For instance, in one such study experimenters either did or did not mimic subjects, and then “accidentally” dropped several pens on the floor.  Subjects either did or did not get up from their chairs to help pick up the pens.  The subjects who had been imitated “were considerably more helpful than non-imitated participants. This effect was recently replicated with eighteen-month old children.”

Remarkably enough, the pro-social impact of imitation persisted even after the person who did the imitating was no longer present.  If a new experimenter entered the room and dropped pens,  the subjects who had been imitated were still more likely to get up and help the unknown new experimenter.  Even more significantly, another study cited in the review of literature found that the prosocial impact of mimicry could carry over to something as abstract as a donation to a previously unknown charity.

“After the imitation manipulation, participants were left alone in a room, with the money they received for participating and they were asked to fill out a questionnaire on the ‘CliniClowns’ a Dutch charity trying to alleviate the stay in hospital for seriously ill children. There was a sealed collection box in the corner of the room and participants were in the position to anonymously donate or not. Whereas non-mimicked participants on average donated a little under 40 eurocents to the CliniClowns, the donation increased up to almost 80 eurocents for those whose behaviour had been mimicked. ”


After conducting experiments of their own, the same social psychologists concluded, “being imitated changes the way we perceive and interact with other people on a fundamental level. After being imitated, we perceive more similarity between objects, feel more similar to others and behave in a more prosocial manner.”

These conclusions carry enormous potential for our conflict resolution work. Integrative Law Institute training programs teach participants a sequence of techniques to recruit the power of mimicry in our work with clients.

  • We begin by teaching participants how to use simple body-mind awareness practices ( the “Self Scan”) to become more self-aware of our own embodied emotions as they express themselves in our muscles and organs.
  • Then, we teach the “Stealth Scan” –a technique for harvesting information about the emotional state of others by mirroring their visible body language and gestures and then doing the Self Scan to see how we ourselves feel when we do it.
  • Finally, we encourage participants to experiment (discreetly!) with intentionally mirroring  the expressions, gestures, and positions of those they interact with at home and at work, and to observe carefully any perceived changes in the quality of relationship and communications.

As humans, no matter how intelligent or professionally detached, we cannot avoid mimicry; it’s part of how we understand other humans in dyad and small group interactions, part of how we know who to trust, who to avoid, who presents a danger.  It happens whether we are aware of the phenomenon or not.

But awareness is far more useful  than ignorance. If we remain unaware, we may be broadcasting our own anxiety in a way that infects others, or picking it up from others, or  exhibiting a degree of alliance with our client that may not be especially helpful to the negotiating process.

Once we become more fluent in recruiting the power of  conscious  mimicry, we can use our evolutionary endowment to help create an environment of trust and pro-social behavior in the negotiating room–an environment that can serve the best interests of all parties.

The study referred to in this post is: Rick van Barren, Loes Janssen, Tanya Chartrand, and Ap Dijksterhuis,Rick van Barren, Loes Janssen, Tanya Chartrand, and Ap Dijksterhuis, Where is the love? The social aspects of mimicry, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 27 August 2009 vol. 364 no. 1528 2381-2389 .






Stories: the Power of Narrative in Conflict Resolution

We  learn in law school that the best way to achieve a great settlement is to prepare vigorously for trial,  building a powerful legal argument emphasizing facts that fit our theory of the case, while challenging the significance of those that harm us.

But what if we are committed to interest-based negotiations,  in which the parties agree  to work only toward settlement, without threats of taking it to the judge?  Collaborative law and some mediation models are based on this premise. Competing predictions about which lawyer has the more powerful legal argument to present to Judge Jones don’t mean much  if the agreed pathway to settlement is finding solutions that both parties will accept as good enough.

So, after we hang up positional legal argumentation alongside our other weapons outside the negotiating room door, what tools remain to help us guide our clients toward “yes”?

Consider storytelling as part of your settlement toolbox.  The most skillful trial advocates have always used narratives in presenting their cases to juries,  because of the singular power of stories to persuade.  Social psychologists are now beginning to unravel the mechanisms by which  stories exert such power, as compared to logical argumentation.

It’s pretty much a truism in the world of neuroscience and cognitive/social psychology that our emotions drive our decisions and choices, and that we often use our rational faculties after the fact to justify decisions that our limbic brains made in an instant without any conscious thought.  Rhetorical argumentation–the marshalling of facts and logical reasoning to push for a given outcome or viewpoint–appeals to the rational part of our brain, but for many if not most of the decisions that our disputing clients will be called upon to make during settlement negotiations, emotion has already driven the train into the station before reason ever registers  the name of the destination.

Enter storytelling.  A recent journal article, Narrative Persuasion in Legal Settings: What’s the Story?,  makes the case that through stories, we can speak directly to the limbic or emotional brain of listeners and trigger emotional connections that may powerfully influence opinions and decisions,  and may even change pre-existing contrary beliefs..

“…studies have shown that narratives influence beliefs and attitudes in part by encouraging empathetic and emotional connections with story characters (Heath, Bell, & Sternberg, 2001; Oatley, 1999).  The power of narratives to influence emotion relates to basic research within social psychology that shows that opinions and beliefs typically have both emotional and rational bases (Chaiken, Pomerantz, & Giner-Sorolla, 1994; Crites, Fabrigar, & Petty, 1994).  Some opinions and beliefs are primarily emotional in nature (e.g., ice cream), whereas others are primarily rational (e.g., vacuum cleaners).  Further research has demonstrated that it is often difficult to influence attitudes that are held emotionally using rationalistic, rhetorical arguments (e.g., Fabrigar & Petty, 1999).  Narratives then, appear to be uniquely suited to changing opinions and beliefs which are held emotionally, and which may be resistant to other forms of persuasion.” (Emphasis added.)

The psychologist authors go on to explain that when we employ the rational tools of argumentative persuasion, the rational brain of the listener who holds another position responds with internal skepticism and counter-argument.  A powerful story well told, however, can take the listener into a world of imaginative emotional resonance  entirely beyond the reach of the skeptical, argumentative rational brain.  (Green & Brock, 2000; Slater & Rouner, 2002).

While  our work as lawyers will always  be reason-based at its core, and while techniques and skills that help our clients return to rational problem-solving after emotional meltdowns will always be vital to our work, stories unfold in a deeper  realm where the emotions that drive our clients’ conflicts reside.  Weaving narratives into  the settlement process has the potential to unlock openness to new ideas in situations where rational arguments may simply cause parties to dig their heels in even more deeply.


Powerful People Believe Everyone–Except Themselves–Should Follow Rules

Which one feels more powerful?

A recent study explored the impact of having power–or even thinking for a moment about power–on moral judgements.  Power causes  people to be much more likely to advocate for moral judgments based upon following the rules.  In contrast, people primed to think about or experience powerlessness  are much likelier to make situational moral judgments that aim at accomplishing the right outcome,  even if the means flout clear rules.

Jorris Lammers and his colleagues presented volunteers with sharp moral dilemmas, and asked them to decide the right course of conduct.  Should police interrogators falsely tell an admitted kidnapper that a world expert in use of torture (a prohibited interrogation method) was en route via helicopter to force disclosure of where the kidnapped young boy was being hidden?  Should doctors who knew a young man had only six months to live because of an incurable, fatal illness hide the diagnosis from him, as requested by his girlfriend but prohibited by applicable ethical rules, long enough for the young man to enjoy a forthcoming and long-anticipated vacation with  her?

Probing the impact of power on people’s moral thinking, the researchers assigned two conditions to the volunteers.  One group was primed with words associated with being powerful, or put in an experimental situation in which they were given power over others, while the second group was primed with words relating to powerlessness, or put in experimental situations in which others had power over them.  The powerful group was far more likely to insist that the rules must be followed.  The powerless group was far more likely to decide that the desirable end justified the impermissible means.

So are people more likely to act according to the rules if they are in positions of power?

Yes, unless it’s their own ox that is being gored.

Lammers’ group then asked both the “power-primed” and the “powerless-primed” groups to read a short narrative and decide whether it was OK for an impoverished apartment-seeker to jump a three-year waiting list for subsidized public housing by using a trick that would place him or her at the front of the queue. Again, those randomly assigned to the power condition were much likelier to disapprove of breaking the rules than those assigned to the powerless condition.

But this time, the study included a tricky wrinkle.  Half of each group read the narrative in the third person, while the other half of each group read the story in the first person, as follows:

“Suppose you are looking for a new apartment after your landlord has terminated the tenancy. However, the only affordable option is public housing, for which there is a three-year waiting list. There is however a trick that allows you to bypass the waiting list and immediately obtain a house.”

The impact of self interest was startling:  if the story was seen as about themselves, the effects of power on moral judgment were reversed.  Those in power were much less likely to insist that the rules should be applied to themselves, while those who were powerless were much more likely to insist that the rules must be followed if they envisioned themselves actually placed in the moral dilemma.

According to Irish neuroscientist Ian H. Robertson, “Power has strong neurological effects on the brain and one of them is that power fosters moral exceptionalism, where rules are applied strenuously to other people. . .but the {same people}. . . feel themselves excepted from equivalent rules governing their conduct.”

Why this insight matters in conflict resolution practice:

When lawyers handle legal conflicts that arise out of an important but  fractured human relationship (think: divorce, will contests, small partnership dissolutions, family business disputes) it’s common for existing or perceived power dynamics in the relationship to become magnified during litigation and settlement negotiations.

Experienced lawyers know that the designated or self-designated powerless party may carry an exaggerated notion of the other party’s ability to dominate negotiations.  Such perceptions may feed reactive, fear-based choices of aggressive legal counsel as well as flooding of “fight-or flight” emotions during key events in the dispute resolution process, whether in court or at the negotiating table.

This research adds a more complex dimension to power dynamics at the negotiating table.  Collaborative law and other interest-based settlement modalities depend on transparency and good faith negotiating practices.  Could it be that in disputes between parties who display  significant power disparities, the more powerful party may be more susceptible to bending the rules for personal advantage than the process permits?  Could it be that the more powerful lawyer at the table may do the same?

Conversely, might the more powerless party be likelier to cherry-pick, insisting on legal rights and entitlements when the rules benefit him/her, while advocating for outcome-based solutions when the rules benefit the other party?

We don’t have firm answers to these questions, but the study should cause us to ask: What tools and techniques could we devise that might re-weight the  moral scales back toward transparency, clarity, and a level playing field?

We might begin by doing a little neuro-education, adapting Lammers’ study with moral dilemmas more closely related to legal negotiations, and presenting our clients with those  moral dilemmas when we prepare them for negotiating sessions.  If we sensitize ourselves and our clients to the dynamics of power through education, we can name the problem and perhaps mitigate the impact.

And of course, we can make use of priming ourselves, to re-balance the scales.

Look for ILI courses in Neuro-Resolution to earn CLE credits while learning more about priming and other realities at the intersection of neuroscience and conflict resolution practice.

Ask your bar association to bring ILI’s Neuro-Resolution courses to your community.

The study is:   Lammers, Joris et al  (2009) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 279-289.  Robertson discusses this study in his forthcoming book:  The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain, to be released in  October by St Martin’s Press.

Lying and Deceit in Negotiations: Gender May Matter

Which One(s) Are the Spin Doctors?

A disturbing report from the June 2012 issue of Scientific American suggests that in competitive negotiating situations, men are far likelier than women  to engage in deceptive practices –at least in situations involving their perceived masculine identity.  Two independent studies found that  men were consistently “more willing than women to engage in shady tactics: they were more accepting of techniques like making false promises, misrepresenting information, and sabotaging their opponents. This was especially true for men who believed that negotiation prowess was an innate and integral part of their masculine nature.”

One of the studies concluded that  “men’s moral judgments varied in such a way as to maximize their own advantage in each negotiation process; when necessary for personal gain, ethical missteps were acceptable. By contrast, women made similar ethical judgments across all perspectives. Even when the ethical choice was clearly detrimental to personal success, women maintained their ethical standards.”

I don’t write these reports or do the research; I just marvel at it.

A caveat:  the studies focused on competitive negotiation scenarios.  Failure in these historically male-dominated situations, the writer suggests, may be associated with diminished status, threat to professional rank, and – at least for some men – perceived weakness. The reporter proposes that “women may demonstrate similar vulnerabilities to their moral standards when faced with dilemmas that challenge their feminine competency or identity, or in arenas were women are (stereotypically) expected to be successful (e.g., skill as a mother, navigating social interactions, effectiveness as a writer).”

These studies shed light on the curiously matter-of-fact way in which many traditional lawyers accept puffery and downright misrepresentation during “courthouse steps” settlement negotiations as normal and appropriate ways to behave.

Could these studies also explain why the explosion of ADR settlement modalities in the legal profession during the last quarter of the 20th Century more or less parallels the explosion in female admissions to law school and to the practicing bar over that same period?

Just wondering….

The article is: When Men Are Less Moral Than Women By Cindi May  | Tuesday, June 19, 2012 |