October 2001
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Bill van Zyverden, Esq.                                              
Interviewed September and October 2001 via email from Middlebury, Vermont.

International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers:
Resolving Conflict Through Healing
"The word 'holistic' comes both from the word 'holy' and the word 'whole'.  So it necessarily implies both a Divine perspective and a perspective of seeing all sides. Together, to me, it means seeing all as one."

"I founded the IAHL looking for kindred spirits.  Once I saw the greater picture, I sought to understand it, and so I looked for others.  This is a wonderful organization. "

"The holistic practice derives its name from the perspective of the practitioner. How this translates may sometimes look traditional, but more often than not it is different."

Q: What were your reasons for going to law school and for becoming a lawyer?

A: Looking back I now know that the profession drew me to it. At the time I thought I was making choices. It was a combination of both, of course. I was seven years out of college when I noticed the call. We can go into details, but it was a pause in my life when I was able to look for what I really wanted to do.

Q: From what law school did you graduate and what year?

A: Vermont Law School, 1988. (It was in a rural setting and had a Jazz Band.)

Q: What was your law school experience like?

A: It was a combination of going because I wanted to be a mediator and peacemaker and of learning the adversarial game ... a bit schizophrenic.

Q: What did you do after you graduated from law school?

A: First I relaxed and waited to take the February Bar Exam rather than jumping into the July exam. I opened up a mediation practice, which wound up becoming a legal practice. It took me two years to establish the Holistic Justice Center and the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers, though the actual idea drove me to law school.

Q: Was practicing law what you had expected it to be?

A: No. At times I have had to do things the traditional way and other times I get clients more holistically focused than I could have hoped for.

Q: You say that the holistic idea actually drove you to law school. From where did the idea originally come?

A: When I think back, I remember being fascinated by Perry Mason and other lawyer shows when I was growing up. It wasn't the winning. I knew that then and I know why now.

In college, my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, I took a law school course in environmental law, which was offered to graduate students. I had to get permission from a number of Deans to get in. They all advised against it and admonished me that I would have to accept the grade I received. I wound up with a "B" in the course and an "A" on my research paper.

That was my second semester in college and thereafter I found myself reading the cases for enjoyment ... one soap opera after another.  These were stories of people.  The cases, however, intentionally left out the humanity of the people. I would imagine the rest of the story. What a gift.

[Go to Top]                                          Seeing All as One                                          [Go to End]

Q: Please explain what it means to be holistic or to have a holistic point-of-view.  

A: The word "holistic" comes both from the word "holy" and the word "whole".  So it necessarily implies both a Divine perspective and a perspective of seeing all sides. Together, to me, it means seeing all as one.

This is especially relevant now as we are seeing the "us vs. them" war on terrorism.  If all is "one", there is no them and no war, only how can we help and serve.  We know from Columbine that the "them" were our own creation. Is this not coming out in this most recent event?

Either you are an "us" or a "them" in the current dualistic view. The vision for the future is to be both and neither. That is the holistic view and one's service from there is obvious.

Q: What is the Holistic Justice Center and how does it work?

A: I created the Center out of the desire for a place, one place, for people to come to resolve their conflicts, a place where conflicts would be perceived as inner conflicts manifesting outwardly.

So, in the legal realm, financial, medical, real estate, therapeutic realm, you name it as long as we are all consistent in philosophy, including the client, the practitioners are in contact with the client and with each other with the client's permission and encouragement.

The "legal" part may be legal services, mediation, arbitration, MedArb (a combination of the two: mediation first, and if no resolution, empowered arbitration), or the "legal" part may be "holistic legal counseling", a session where the "lawyer" helps the client understand the influences around client, the client's reactions, how these actions affect those around the client, and remedial measures the client can take.

All of this is done in an educational setting in which education means to "draw out", from the original Latin, "educere", rather than the current meaning, to "stuff in".  Socrates would be pleased with the approach.  The idea is to help the client tap into the client's own inner resources and wisdom and away from "experts" telling the client what the client should or should not do.

Q: Where is the Holistic Justice Center located?

A: Easy ... Right now the only one is here in Middlebury, Vermont, although there is interest by others to begin franchising, of sorts.

Q: If someone wanted to franchise, as you mentioned above, how would it be done?

A: Right now myself and another IAHL member are planning on creating this concept. The ideas are flowing in one location.  The challenge now is to set up a mechanism for duplication without duplication. What I mean by this is that you may duplicate marketing materials and paperwork, but, because holistic law is a spontaneous inspiration from the soul, this cannot be duplicated.  What we would have to endeavor to duplicate is the willingness of each practitioner soul to reach out from within to those seeking this kind of service.

For me, holistic lawyers do not ask questions based upon an intellectual framework, such as, elements of a crime or preventative measures needed for a contract.  The questions arise out of inner inspiration, a curiosity about what it is, really, that this soul, who has come for assistance, needs in this moment for growth and healing.  Again, this is not an intellectual investigation, but a soul reacting to another soul.

The service may appear "normal", but there is much more going on: the sound of the voice, the look, the attention, soft eyes.  Other differences are less familiar: encouraging non-judgment, letting go of a preferred outcome, allowing another person to have the consequences of their own actions, and loving oneself for allowing this.  Finally, everyone involved, the lawyer/practitioner, too, is a party. There is no distinction between those asking for help and those being asked.

It is going to be a fun creation of the "franchise" process. Lots of periodic sharing disguised as training.

[Go to Top]                                          Founding the IAHL                                      [Go to End]

Q: You are the founder of the International Alliance for Holistic Lawyers. What is the IAHL??

A: I founded the IAHL looking for kindred spirits.  Once I saw the greater picture, I sought to understand it, and so I looked for others.  This is a wonderful organization.  It continues to be a challenge for its members, directing us to hold to the vision of the journey we are collectively taking.

I chose "alliance" because it represents a stronger bond than "association." No other word has been found to substitute for "holistic," though it continues to be controversial among the membership and too touchy-feely from those who do not understand.

Lawyers are the constituency calling for its own healing.

Since we were incorporated in 1991, we have had more than 7000 inquiries and more than 1000 join, though we exist in the mid-200's as far as active membership.  The holistic path is a challenge.  When it feels like a struggle, sometimes we must step out and step back in order to see why we are committed to the path we are on.

Q: Do members of IAHL get together for task forces or for conferences? If so, how often?

A: We have an annual conference that has had an interesting history of its own. For the first four years we met here in Vermont, sat in a circle, no agenda, and just talked, just talked about what came up.

In 1996 we had our first programmed conference: Practicing Holistically in an "Unholistic" World (quotes added for effect).  We met in Washington DC from a Friday to Sunday. On Monday we all boarded a chartered bus to the US Supreme Court and convened a group admission to the US Supreme Court Bar. Afterwards we shared some personal comments with Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Clarence Thomas.  The question we found in light of the DC conference was: What drew us all to the profession?

Our next conference, in 1997, was entitled The Calling of the Law and was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It also was a programmed conference and for the first time had a professional looking brochure.

The question that appeared next was: What is it that is calling?  We found ourselves in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1998 with a conference entitled Joy in the Practice of Law.

But why?  In the Florida Keys, in 1999, we convened for Law as a Healing Profession.  In 2000 we convened in Chicago for Transforming Legal Practice.

This year, 2001, brought us to our ten- year anniversary and Shifting the Legal Paradigm: Being the Change We Seek, borrowing from a quote from Gandhi.

Where next? It now begins anew with others being the focus. This last ten-year path has been mostly my creation. It is time to let the path be for the service of others.  We shall see.

[Go to Top]                              Non-Traditional Holistic Practice                           [Go to End]

Q: How is holistic law different from traditional law? Can you give examples?

A: This can be a very long answer or short ... I'll start with the short and you can follow-up.

The holistic practice derives its name from the perspective of the practitioner. How this translates may sometimes look traditional, but more often than not it is different.

Here's an example.  I am representing a DWI client. He wants me to get him off. I ask him the elements. " Were you operating - a motor vehicle - on a public roadway - while under the influence of alcohol or other drug?"

"Yes," he says.

"Is there any reason for you to believe that your arrest was illegal, such as police brutality, no Miranda warning, etc.?"

"No," he says.

My response is that I cannot, in good conscience, represent him as innocent.

We talk. He knows he can go down the street to another attorney and be represented by someone who will defend him on the traditional basis of forcing the State to prove its case. If it can't, he goes free.

Not here!

Q: O.K. You have a client charged with drunk driving who is not going to fight the charge. What does he need you for? What professional service will you offer him?

A: A perspective that he is unable to see himself.

Personal experience verifies this.  When you are in the middle of something you cannot see the forest for the trees, or in this case, he is charged with drunk driving and the only thing he can see is the conviction and the effects it will have on him, such as going to court, loss of license, fine, jail, name in paper, possible loss of job, loss of wife, and the stigma associated with all of the above... all fear- based and all narrow thinking.

In this case, he left at first, only to return and to talk a few hours about all the possibilities and the greater perspective.  As it turns out, he experienced alcohol very early on, finishing the beers of his father. This led to more, and drugs were not far behind. This is not to say that one necessarily leads to the other, but the addictive behavior and the enabling of his father, who encouraged the lifestyle, were well entrenched and the chemicals were a lawful progression.

He left again, after asking for complete defense, but said he would think about it. He returned with his wife and a willingness to see this event as an opportunity to turn his life around in the best interests of himself and his family.

Before the arraignment we set him up for residential and continuing treatment, including AA. He pled guilty at the arraignment and was given a fine and strong encouragement to do well with his treatment.  Six months later I arranged for him to speak to some teens who were in the system for underage drinking.

A few years later he was still sober.  Then I lost track of him.

He is the hero of the story, but it took someone to mirror the larger picture, which we can do.  This should be a regular offering that lawyers provide.  Instead we get caught up providing a service that the client thinks he wants: "Get me off!" even when we know this is both momentary and self-defeating.

Let the client find out that there is no lawyer willing to feed his addiction. Lawyers must risk the loss of a client.

Q: Can you take a similar approach when someone is charged with a more serious criminal offense, such as assault of manslaughter?

A: The answer for more serious criminal offences and anything else, including running a stop sign or taking minor revenge against a neighbor or the US taking major revenge against Osama bin Laden, is that it is all the same. It is all learned and reinforced by parents or society.

Assuming that a child comes in with no karma from past lives (another discussion), all behavior must be learned and reinforced -- all of it.  Undoing or re-educating will necessarily concern re-educating society because the individual will re-commit the offense if the behavior is encouraged and supported.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in your approach to law in a holistic way?

A: The biggest challenge is in the minds of every human to release the patterns of their past, their patterned actions and reactions to known stimuli, to break from a repeat of the past.

The holistic view is a sight unlike anything we have ever known.  It gives up the notion that what is known is all that is known. The holistic view releases the notion that there are sides, that there exists separateness.

To begin, we must give up the notion of competition to resolve differences. We, as lawyers, can fight for our clients' rights and fight for reasonable solutions, rather than take an extreme position, just because these are the rules of the game and what the clients expect.

We must educate our clients and our public that peaceful resolution is the aim of the profession and that being hired to champion a cause, whose goal is intended to harm another, is no longer permissible or obtainable. Pretty nice.


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