Why is it that lawyers and the legal system are held in such disregard in a society that prides itself on individualism and protection of rights? Part of the answer, I think, is that we ask too much of our legal system. We have lost the ability, as a society and a community, to resolve conflicts peacefully. The legal system has never been designed as a peaceful means of conflict resolution. In fact, the legal system is designed to be conflict-based, not peaceful. Lawyers are trained in an adversary process, not peace making. The litigation system is designed as a battle between parties, where justice hopefully comes out of the fray. I do not mean this to be a criticism of the legal system, but simply a description of the way it is. Even alternative dispute resolution is based on a competitive, adversarial model.
The system has served us well at protecting individual rights against oppression for two centuries. Today, however, we bring all conflicts to the legal system, not just problems for which the legal system is appropriately designed to resolve. We expect that peace will be restored after the parties have expended financial and emotional resources to reach a result they are generally unhappy with. We wonder why there is such unhappiness with the legal system.
I think there’s a better way. Simply stated, we must reintroduce the social knowledge of how to resolve conflicts back into our community. Let me propose a radical idea: that lawyers be trained as peacemakers; that we train our children in the social knowledge regarding making things right and reconciling interests; that we learn how to apply the ancient principles of confession, apology, and atonement to everyday business life.
This is not as far-fetched or as difficult as it sounds. Teaching lawyers is the easy part. Without exception, every lawyer who I have talked to about peacemaking is interested and intrigued. To that end, I have developed a comprehensive continuing legal education program for lawyers: Negotiation Mastery for the Legal Pro. The goal is not replace the adversary system. Instead, the goal is to provide new tools and orientations to human conflict. This is a multi-disciplinary curriculum, drawing on social psychology, law, and human conflict theory.
Teaching the children is also easy. The problem here is convincing the schools to introduce peacemaking as an expected everyday occurrence on campus. This effort has already been initiated by the Center For Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University. We just need to expand and support its effort.
Finally, reaching out to the business community should not be difficult. The social knowledge necessary for effective conflict resolution is simple to teach and easy to learn. It’s like riding a bicycle: once you learn, you never forget. Once we convince business owners that peacemaking is good for business, good for people, and good for the bottom line, we move forward into a more peaceful and efficient way of resolving conflict.
Douglas E. Noll, Lawyer to Peacemaker
Creator of Negotiation Mastery for the Legal Pro
California Lawyer Magazine, California Attorney of the Year 2012