A Restorative Justice Based Practice of Law

I’m excited!  On Wednesday I’ll travel to St. Paul Minnesota for Restorative Practices International 2018 conference.  RPI is an independent professional member organization designed to support practitioners working in diverse areas of Restorative Justice and related fields.  I'm looking forward to many of the sessions at my first RPI conference.    Of course, I’m excited to hear from Stephanie Autumn, the keynote speaker.  Ms. Autumn has extensive experience in developing, implementing, and evaluating programs in Indian country. A member of the Hopi Tribe, she has worked with diverse tribes across the nation on issues of American Indian adult and juvenile justice, substance abuse prevention, restorative justice, and tribal youth mentoring programs. I’m looking forward to attending breakout sessions on topics that range from Implementing a School Wide Restorative Approach, Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline to Cultivating a Restorative Community.  One meeting that I’m definitely attending will be Thursday morning when  Mark Umbreit will lead a session on Mindfulness Approach to Restorative Practices.  This session has significant meaning for me since I find that when I am working with clients, as a lawyer or mediator, I can’t work from a script or check sheet.  I need to be present and listen, to see what concerns the parties articulate, what direction they may need to go to decide how to participate in our dialog.  

Brenda Waugh How to Spot a Restorative Lawyer

So, what do I add to the conference?  Since 2009 when I finished my master’s degree at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peace, I’ve been working to develop a way to practice law, consistent with restorative justice.  Recall that both Dan Van Ness and Howard Zehr describe restorative justice as being a continuum, with some practices fully restorative and others not at all restorative.  Most RJ program practices can be placed someplace on that continuum.  I have found that in my everyday practice of law and mediation, my practices may also be placed on that continuum and I work to find the ways to make them more restorative.  For example, in a simple divorce matter, it is more restorative for the parties to create a parenting plan by providing an opportunity for dialog through collaborative divorce or transformative mediation than by conducting an adversarial hearing before a judge who would render a decision.  Increasing the collaboration between the stakeholders and working to find a way to meet their needs creates a resolution to their legal case that will also provide a way to improve their relationship and heal the loss that this big change in their lives could create.  In a case involving someone who is injured in an auto accident, I do not look at the client and their injuries as a commodity that my office or an insurance carrier may place a value on, instead I see them as a person who has suffered harm.  I work to involve them in the process where we can work to best address the needs created by the harm.  
I’m still firming up the details as to how I’ll structure my ninety-minute workshop, but I plan to include a little background story--as to how practicing law both broke and healed my heart.  I then want to test out some ideas I have about “Rules of Procedure for Restorative Lawyering” through a little quiz.  We’ll then talk a little concretely about exactly how I do this type of work.  I’m hoping to finish out with some small group work with dissecting a case study and taking on some difficult conceptual questions.  Of course, we’ll finish up with a short reflective talking circle to see if we can assimilate some of the ideas we’ve created together.  If you can join us in St. Paul, please introduce yourself if you see me at registration or the precious social time the organizers have built into the program. If not, look for me on Twitter and Facebook and check in after next week to see how it went!