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Dallas litigator John V. McShane just returned from Montana. He wasn’t there for vacation, a big trial or CLE. Rather, state bar leaders asked him to talk with their members about becoming better lawyers by becoming better people. “It’s a consciousness-raising that is going on not just there, but across the country,” says McShane, partner in the five-lawyer firm of McShane, Davis & Hance. The core of McShane’s message to the Montana lawyers was to treat lawyering as a healing profession. By focusing on the big picture rather than the narrow legal issue and focusing on the humanity of the client, says McShane, a lawyer can promote healing in the client and the system. A lawyer can also avoid the stress and unhappiness that seem to characterize the profession. McShane says he developed this mind-set in the 1970s after enduring a period of “tough times.” With this approach, McShane joined a popular school of thought called “holistic lawyering” or “therapeutic jurisprudence.” The most prominent advocate of this practice approach is the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers [www.iahl.org], and McShane attended the group’s eighth annual convention in Chicago last month. Through speaking engagements and phone consultations, McShane brings his holistic message and methods to lawyers across the country. In 1998, he became a certified personal coach, and he works with lawyers from Abilene to Australia � including many solos and small-firms. In a recent interview, McShane discussed what “holistic lawyering” means. Q: How does “holistic lawyering” work in the real world? MCSHANE: The most typical issue could be a multiple DWI offender. Keeping them out of jail is the narrow issue, but the lawyer who is practicing as a healer would try to influence the person to seek help for a drinking problem. In a transaction-based practice, an example would be to help clients build trust rather than destroy trust. Many transaction lawyers operate in a way that they create distrust because they are supposed to find every possible way the parties can breach the contract. They end up decreasing the level of trust in a business transaction. With a holistic approach, lawyers work collaboratively and creatively to allow all parties to trust each other more. Q: What is your advice to solos interested in integrating a holistic approach into their practice? MCSHANE: I want to stress that a solo should make the transition incrementally. It should not be an overnight change to your practice of law � you want to start small and make gradual changes. The first step is “self care.” The first element of being able to practice law in a holistic way is to take care of yourself. That’s one of the hardest things for all lawyers, but especially for solos. This means getting enough rest, eating well, exercising and meditating to handle stress. Very few lawyers have any type of systematic meditation routine. . . . I personally use transcendental meditation. . . . After “self care,” I believe the next step should be “clarifying values,” asking yourself why you are doing this in the first place � what is the purpose of your law practice. Most people don’t ask themselves the big questions. Q: What if the answer is something shallow like, “So my kids can go to private school?” MCSHANE: That’s not shallow. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you understand why you’re doing it. Because then you feel you’re responsible for a conscious choice. You don’t feel like a victim caught on a treadmill without control. Now, you know you practice law because you’re paying for your child’s private school. . . . I always say there’s no value that is shallow or noble. You are just acting consistent with a core value. Q: What is the next step? MCSHANE: Value clarification. Look at your law practice and ask, is this the type of practice that is congruent with my values? Then change your practice if it needs to be changed. For example, if your core value is having time for yourself and time to pursue interests and hobbies but you’re working 80 hours, you need to cut back. But if your core value is money, you may want to work more. [Lawyers must] set a vision for a life and a practice closer to their values. They must sit down and devise a plan. Q: Do solos and small-firm practitioners face any unique issues in developing a holistic practice? MCSHANE: It’s very difficult to do the exercise that I am talking about whenever you have the challenge of performing all of the functions of a law firm yourself. … It is tremendously challenging to juggle all of those balls and still have a life. … It takes a lot of time and effort, but the thing I always tell them universally is that they will encounter resistance. This comes in two ways: Internal resistance is the feeling that if you change anything, you will starve to death — it’s the feeling that wakes you up in the middle of the night — and external resistance, like a spouse that is fearful of a drop in standard of living. I tell them to anticipate this resistance. There are coaching techniques [to counter this resistance]. … [But] people change all the time without help. Self-directed change is difficult for those who are already stretched to the max. Q: Can you recommend some resources that can help? MCSHANE: I recommend the book “Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life,” by Steven Keeva [ABA Journal Books, published by Contemporary Books, 1999]. Another [book] that is extremely helpful is “The Lawyers’ Guide to Balancing Work and Life,” by George Kaufman [Law Practice Management Section, American Bar Association, 1999]. The good thing about the Kaufman book is that he gives exercises to do all of the things I’ve talked about, like clarifying values and setting a vision. I recommend that the first thing people do is to take these two books and read them over the weekend, like a mini sabbatical. This will help you determine whether you want to make any changes in your law practice or not.

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