Barbara MontyCan we, as lawyers and mediators, help our clients reach psychological closure when they have been in conflict? Can we help them forgive those who have injured them and forgive themselves?

As the old saying goes, “A fair settlement is when both parties walk away unhappy.” Is that really true? Is the best we can do for clients, for ourselves and for the legal profession just to settle a case where no one goes home happy? Even if we win at trial, are we being overly ambitious or grandiose if we think we can do more? Can we actually help parties reach closure? Can we help them heal? Should we? What is the value of forgiveness?

Some of these questions were considered in the Forgiveness presentation co-sponsored by MCBA’s ADR Section and Resolution Remedies on January 18. Approximately 60 people attended this panel presentation by Judge Roy Chernus, Eileen Barker and myself during which we discussed some basic issues relating to forgiveness for lawyers and mediators.

Judge Chernus had been a skeptic of the role of forgiveness in a legal setting. But he shared some of the scientifically proven health benefits of forgiving, one of the factors that helped change his mind. According to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic, forgiving results in:

  • lower blood pressure;
  • a stronger immune system;
  • and healthier hearts.

Another factor that helped shift his thinking was the role of apology in medical malpractice cases. Contrary to common legal advice, the National Institutes of Health recommends that doctors apologize for medical errors. The NIH found that a doctor’s apology—different from admitting fault—helped settle cases, to the benefit of both the doctor and the patient.Eileen Barker is at the forefront of the movement to bring forgiveness and the law together, teaching forgiveness to lawyers, mediators and law students. Efforts are underway in legal communities throughout the world—thanks in part to Eileen’s work—to reduce litigation, resolve conflict more efficiently, and contribute to the emotional health of parties, lawyers and the community at large.

As both a mediator and litigator, I am interested in the practical application of forgiveness for my clients. What would our practices look like if we:

  • Put forgiveness on the menu as a possible outcome;
  • Discussed with our clients what they get out of their desire for revenge or a need to be right;
  • Became skilled in incorporating forgiveness into conflict resolution;
  • Worked on forgiving others and ourselves;
  • Considered each party and each lawyer as a member of a team working together to resolve conflict; and
  • Changed what we consider to be success?

I don’t yet have answers to these questions, but I’m engaged in an ongoing process of change to answer them for my own practice as part of a year-long training with Eileen with a goal of helping others answer them as well. To this end, Judge Chernus, Eileen Barker and I are honored to be part of a new training for lawyers and mediators headed by Fred Luskin PhD. Dr. Luskin is the Director and Co-Founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and author of several best-selling books including Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. We are offering this half-day training (providing 3.0 hours of CLE ) on March 17, 2017 at Resolution Remedies in San Rafael.Eileen and I are also in the process of writing a book on forgiveness for lawyers and mediators and are exploring specific ways in which we can apply some of these principals to our daily practices. We will be including some of your stories of how forgiveness could have or did work for you and your clients. Some of you have already expressed interest in being interviewed for possible inclusion in the book; if you are interested and haven’t yet spoken to me, please contact me.

Rob Rosborough, the Marin Lawyer editor, has also asked if I would share some ideas about forgiveness and the law this year as I move through this process, so I will occasionally have a piece in the Marin Lawyer. I look forward to the coming year and welcome along all who are interested in the journey.

To be interviewed for the book, please contact me directly by email (below).