Lawyers as Peacemakers

By John Goodwin of John G. Goodwin, Family Mediator/Collaborative Family Lawyer/Family Lawyer posted in Family Mediation on Tuesday, January 30, 2018.

I know that this concept (lawyers as peacemakers) may be a bit of a hard sell but stay with me for a moment.


Most of us were not trained in dispute resolution/peacemaking at law school.

In fact, we were taught an adversarial system approach at law school and in our early years of practice this type of learning continued.

Family law itself started out as part of the adversarial system – family law cases were handled by general civil litigation lawyers as just another type of dispute.

And most of us had no training in listening – our communication model was not “talking and listening” but “talking and waiting to talk”.

New Ways of Thinking/Working

However, there has been an evolution over the years as family law developed into a specialty.

This started in Ontario in the 1970’s with a few leaders who started thinking more comprehensively about families and better ways of resolving conflict.

Family law became multi-disciplinary to include mental health / family relations professionals in the process.

New thinking about dispute resolution departed from the old win/lose approach to disputes (adversarial and court focussed) to move to win/win thinking which was much better suited to family issues.

A significant part of this new thinking originated with a Harvard Law School professor, Roger Fisher, who wrote Getting to Yes – a small, elegant book that talked about principled negotiation where everyone’s interests could be respectfully considered and all could “win”.

Family mediation was one process that was developing and spreading across North America. Some family mediators were mental health professionals who typically dealt with parenting issues) and some were lawyers who typically dealt with financial issues.

Later, and with a similar win-win approach, Collaborative Family Law evolved.

These new processes resulted in a gentler, more respectful approach to resolving family disputes with lower emotional and financial costs.

A peaceful resolution is the goal of these approaches and they now have wide (though still not universal) acceptance in the legal field and with the public generally.

And that, my friends, is how some lawyers became peacemakers.