J. Kim Wright, Law, Peacemakers, Appreciative Leading - PS110

J. Kim Wright, Law, Peacemakers, Appreciative Leading – PS110


My guest, J. Kim Wright, a global nomad by life style and a lawyer by profession reveals in an entertaining and heartfelt way what entering the legal profession has done for her and what she has done for it. She travels the world talking to lawyers about lawyers as change agents and peacemakers.

I enjoyed speaking with J Kim Wright in many ways. She’s a wonderful example of someone who is appreciatively leading in her profession. Her two books were immediate best sellers, Lawyers as Peacemakers in 2010 and then Lawyers as Changemakers in 2016. (Links to both books below.) She cites:

“Ten years ago, I was named as one of the first American Bar Association's Legal Rebels, finding new ways to practice law, represent their clients, adjudicate cases and train the next generation of lawyers.”

It might also be Kim's whimsy and irreverence that I find appealing as much as her mission and creativity.

Lawyers Have Magic Words

J. Kim Wright, Global Nomad, Lawyer, Author

I asked Kim at the outset why she entered law. Her response:

J. Kim Wright: Well, I actually didn't think I was going to law school to be a lawyer. I had a very complicated family situation and we were often bumping up against the legal system with a child custody case of one my stepchildren. One was a chronic runaway and we had a lot of legal issues with that. And then I was married to a man who liked to be arrested for civil disobedience and we decided that it was just so much easier to have a lawyer in the family. And I had no idea what that entailed.

I really had no idea. I didn't know lawyers. I knew that lawyers had magic words and if you went to a lawyer you could get magic done. Once I went to a lawyer; he made one phone call and found out the information I had been looking for for weeks. But he had those magic words. I decided that I wanted the magic words too, and there was a law school about an hour away. I didn't know it was hard to get into law school. I didn't know that law school was hard.

A Rough Start to Becoming a Lawyer

Kim uses a range of words to describe her first experiences with law; and, more particularly, with practitioners of law i..e. lawyers themselves. Throughout our conversation her descriptions include “jerks,” “competitive,” “mean-spirited,” the way lawyers' brains work is ‘it's black and white,” “we are re-patterning lawyers' brains.”

J. Kim Wright: For most lawyers, autonomy is one of the highest values. And we like to reinvent the wheel a lot. We start in our own private lives because there's a lot of stigma about personal growth in the law. We're not supposed to even care about our personal growth. We're supposed to be automatons that are looking to break out of all of the emotion and just do the analytical thinking … if you're looking at it from a neurological perspective, the limbic system, relationships, emotions, all of those things are considered not relevant.

A Big Shift to Collaborative Law Practices

Fortunately, not long into her practice she met lawyers who were already practicing out of the box. She names particular lawyers who “blew her away”, influencing her early in her career she could do it differently and therefore she started her own holistic law practice.

J. Kim Wright: I was really proud of myself. I thought I was the most cutting-edge lawyer in the world. And I went to the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers expecting to walk in like I owned the place … expecting to show them. And I was just blown away by what they were doing. I was actually shocked to the point of being taken aback. There were people who were doing yoga in their law practices and there were people who were doing all sorts of out-there things with restorative justice.

There were just a lot of different things that were new to me and were shocking to somebody who was in practicing law in a small town in North Carolina. And yet there was something about it that was so attractive that I couldn't just run away. I wanted to learn more.

The well-being of lawyers was one of the topics at this event. Kim had found her calling as a lawyer.

Transformational Moment – Taking on a Mission

J. Kim Wright - distressed lawyer

J. Kim Wright: Lawyers in general have much higher rates of addiction and suicide. Yet the people who were practicing in these new holistic ways, were much healthier. I really took that in. My mission was going to learn about this and then to actually bring this message to the mainstream, not just the fringe lawyers, who were all arguably on the fringe, but that these ideas could actually transform the practice of law.

So I started looking for tools and I found Appreciative Inquiry and eventually Theory U and the Berkana's Two Loops Model and a whole lot of other things: Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics and more.

Integrative Law and Collaborative Practices

Personal development has not been a common pursuit among lawyers. The more Kim pursued her own development, the more she felt propelled to find ways in which she could be of greater service to her profession.

J. Kim Wright: At first, whether something was integrated or not was sort of a judgment call about if it felt integrative … what was happening was that I was collecting lawyers from all over the world. They would find me or I would see an article or somebody would say, you really ought to talk to this person. I discovered that they had some things in common. Eventually we came up with four, I call them pillars that seemed to be sort of an evolution that happens. It can start at any of the places. The first thing is around this well-being issue – the legal profession is a very unhealthy profession.

How Can I Be Me and Still Be A Lawyer?

J. Kim Wright: Some [lawyers] start by saying they're going to work on their own wellbeing. They've developed a lot of things around a contemplative practice. In looking at one's self, one of the things that happens when people start doing that is that they start looking at their values and their purpose. Values and purposes are another entry point. It's an evolution. Those values and purpose become a lens for people who are actually looking at the legal profession. What is my purpose? What is the purpose of law? One of the questions I like to ask is how can I be me and still be a lawyer?

One of the reasons that my work has made the biggest difference is because there are all these people out there who think they're alone. And just as I found holistic lawyers there's this insight ‘I'm not alone.' There are other people who think like this. And that sense of belonging gives us courage. As we find each other, we get a little more outrageous with what we're doing.

Peacemakers and Changemakers Cafés

Collaboration Cafe - j.Kim WRight

You can listen to many rich examples of the innovations that Kim and her cohorts are contributing to the legal profession all over the world. For example: Comic Contracts. originally created for those who couldn't read, now used in all sorts of contracts, and Legal Changemakers Cafés where conversation among lawyers is the goal with reflective segments built into the design.

J. Kim Wright: I've just never been more surprised or pleased about how it's turned out because I am one of those people who pushes against that kind of structure. And I would think it would be really great if we all just talked. In the Legal Changemakers Cafés, people often pick up on just an aside in the conversation and take it in a deep direction and share it. It's really insightful and delightful to engage in these conversations. Everybody gets included. Everybody gets to talk. People go away feeling really heard and enriched.

How Does Appreciative Leading Show Up?

J. Kim Wright: As I experience it, I'm looking for what's possible. I'm looking for the strengths of the individual and also the profession because we are, I think, natural changemakers as a profession. It's just that our training has had us forget that.

I'm on a discovery process in the world and as I open up new possibilities for people, they step into them and adjust and adapt in ways that I would never have imagined myself. That's what comes to mind.

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