Preventive law (Emerging alternative concepts and approaches to dispute resolution)

For years I have preached the concept of what I call "preventive law" to my small business clients. A portion of my practice over the past 12 years has been devoted to the representation of construction contractors and subcontractors and to the prosecution of mechanic lien foreclosures and related collections matters. When counseling clients, I would often find myself using medical analogies to help to describe the life experience they were about to undergo when first addressing a legal dispute. I would say things such as: "you know the idea of preventive medicine, taking care of your health before you get sick-well, it is best to take care of your legal matters before you need litigation, as litigation can sometimes feel similar to the experience of undergoing a major operation and long-term recovery" or, "just as you go to the dentist for a yearly check-up before your teeth rot, it is often more cost-effective to have an attorney review and revise your contact documents before you start a project than to have to hire counsel to litigate over contract terms after the contract has been breached and you have not been paid."

In recent years, and as my interest in various alternative dispute resolution models has grown (I am also a certified mediator and trained collaborative family law attorney), I have come to find that there is a whole body of legal thought and practice dedicated to the very idea of what I dubbed "preventive law"-the concept of helping clients use their experience to re-frame their thinking and approach to future legal issues and disputes. This emerging area of legal thought and approach to dispute resolution is referred to under various headings including holistic law practice or therapeutic jurisprudence. In this article I would like to introduce you briefly to some organizations and resources that I have discovered actively promote the core ideas underlying the "preventive law" philosophy.

The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers is an organization committed to what it calls "P.E.A.C.E. L.A.W." The acronym stands for: (1) Promote peaceful advocacy and holistic legal principles; (2) Encourage compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing; (3) Advocate the need for a humane legal process; (4) Contribute to peace building at all levels; (5) Enjoy the practice of law; (6) Listen intentionally and deeply in order to gain complete understanding; (6) Acknowledge the opportunity in conflict; (7) Wholly honor and respect the dignity and integrity of each individual. The IAHL. was founded in 1991 and is comprised of a growing number of judges, lawyers, law students and concerned individuals committed to working toward transformation of how society deals with conflict management. Information can be found at <>. For information regarding the Chicago chapter of IAHL, you can reach Chicago attorney Mr. Edward D. Shapiro, at <www.>.

The Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, founded in 2002, is committed to education and promotion of the collaborative law model of dispute resolution (see previous article in Fall, 2003, ISBA Catalyst newsletter, "A New Approach to the Old Problem of Divorce"). The Institute's membership includes legal, financial and mental health professionals dedicated to the promotion of peaceful resolution of controversies. Although the model is currently being utilized most widely in the area of matrimonial law, it has potential application to other areas of law such as estate and business partnership disputes. This non-litigation alternative for divorcing families focuses on the preservation of post-divorce family integrity and on effective and respectful communication between divorcing spouses and their respective counsels. The process relies on frank and open disclosure of information. Attorneys and other professionals trained in this model encourage the highest good-faith problem solving behavior from their own client and themselves. The approach has been called the "win/win divorce" (a term coined by DuPage County attorney and Institute Fellow, Ms. Theresa Kulat). Information about the Institute and its members can be found at <>. For additional information, please feel free to contract the author directly.

Another great resource for anyone interested in exploring the idea of holistic law and its many incarnations is <www.transformingpractices. com>. The book of the same name, Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Life, by Steven Keeva (an ABA Journal Book, published by Contemporary Books, 1999) is a wonderful read and very inspirational for attorneys who may be experiencing "burn out" with the practice and especially with the demands of litigation. This Web site has many inspirational articles and discussions about the emerging concepts in the dispute resolution field.

Inspired by all of the above examples, I have personally found again the magic which first led me to a life in the law. I have rededicated my practice in 2004 to the application of the law to heal and guide our community and to seek new avenues to aid clients in developing strategies to avoid and contain disputes. When the general perception of the public is that lawyers have become part of the problem and not part of the solution, it serves the greater good to look to emerging concepts and approaches to dispute resolution for "an ounce of cure." Wishing you all good health and peaceful practice in 2004.


Effective January 7, 2004, the author has re-established The Law Offices of Sandra Crawford. The firm will concentrates in areas of Collaborative Family Law, Mediation, Mechanic Lien Foreclosure and related litigation. Commencing February 1, 2004, the Law Offices of Sandra Crawford will be located at The Chicago Temple Building, 77 West Washington, Suite 1515, Chicago, Illinois 60601 (312) 520-9137.

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February 2004Volume 9Number 3PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)