Can a quirky band of law professors, lawyers, and judges transform the law and legal profession?

Guest blog post at

My guest blog post examining the challenges of mainstreaming therapeutic jurisprudence in the U.S.

This Friday and Saturday, I’ll be hosting a workshop for a group of lawyers and law professors who affiliate themselves with therapeutic jurisprudence, a legal philosophy that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of our laws and legal systems. TJ, as we call it, implicitly embraces legal outcomes that support psychological health and well-being. We’ll be gathering at Suffolk University Law School for two great days of informal presentations and thoughtful exchanges.

Much of our discussion will be devoted to how North American TJ scholars and practitioners can mainstream a philosophical lens that, despite some genuine advances, exists somewhat on the periphery of legal thought. In fact, last month I wrote a guest post for the Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog, examining some of the challenges that face TJ adherents in the U.S. as we attempt to grow our numbers, visibility, and influence. Here are a couple of snippets:

American lawyers and judges learn very early in their legal training – commonly, during the first year of law school – of the law’s discomfort with psychology, whether in interpreting tricky issues of intent or wrestling with how to incorporate insanity or incapacity into legal decision making. Furthermore, emotions are regarded as messy, getting in the way of analysis. When it comes to dealing with legal disputes, it’s easier to get the parties’ stories and apply rules to facts, hopefully without too much mucking around in the human mind and complicated feelings.


I offer the hypothesis that many American lawyers, judges, legislators, and law students have little idea of how truly miserable the standard-brand civil or criminal litigation experience can be for most parties to a legal dispute. Being a party to litigation is, at best, a major distraction from more life-affirming activities, and often proves expensive, time consuming, intimidating, fearful, and stressful, with significant stakes in the result.

We’ll have lots of good stuff to talk about! I look forward to welcoming participants David Wexler (TJ co-founder), Indira Azizi, Susan Brooks, Caroline Cooper, Heather Ellis Cucolo, Michael Jones, Shelley Kierstead, Alison Lynch, Michael Perlin, Amanda Peters, Marjorie Silver, and Carol Zeiner.


Related posts

Mainstreaming psychological well-being in the law: TJ’s challenge (2015)

Academic conferences: When small is beautiful (2014) 

4 responses

  1. Can the legal community be transformed? We can only fervently hope. An emphasis on therapeutic jurisprudence will not only help those who need to be genuinely and holistically SERVED in their often frustrating and stressful search for fairness and justice, but it also just might be an impetus for many in the legal community to examine their own psychological issues around power, control, authoritarianism, moral cowardliness, and entitlement (Sorry, I’ve worked around a lot of lawyers.)

    I’ve also met a couple of retired judges whose insight, compassion, empathy and moral courage puts a smile on me every day.

    When I worked in a Hall of Justice, I used to think about how many average citizens going in and out the doors would be harmed in some way or even ruined by their inability to vindicate their legal rights due to the unnecessary expense, complexity, elitism and tribalism of the legal community. Derek Bok of Harvard used to write that the majority of Americans are unable to vindicate their legal rights.

    I would like to see every attorney with the moral courage to support the Healthy Workplace Bill and not be put off by the messy issues of definitions of bullying and mobbing and malice and complicated feelings. Put off by potential for frivolous cases, waste of time? So what. Allow people to make their claims and evaluate them. Case review could be a volunteer task for law students and legal retirees. Solve the problem, don’t complain about it.

    The legal community’s work is to promote the equality of access to fairness and justice. I’d like to see it work with enthusiasm in taking this on despite messy issues requiring compassionate listening, insight, judgment, and common sense. We are very able to distinguish the valid abusive workplace behavior cases—listen, and give the victim/target a chance to tell their story.

    I’d like to see a kind of modified medium claims equity court experimented with, dealing with workplace abusive behavior issues and largely volunteer and as-needed. Just agree to hear my case, OK? I’d like to see those counties with civil grand juries and oversight over county entities to entertain workplace grievances and refer them to the local restorative justice center.

    Did someone say stress? Here’s a great quote from a salon article:
    “Primates are super smart and organized just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other and stressing each other out,” Robert Sapolsky, a famous Stanford University neuroscientist, said during an interview in 2007. “But if you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, you’re going to compromise your health. So, essentially, we’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick.”

  2. Please add to the last sentence in my second to the last paragraph re civil grand juries: “requiring participation of all parties.”

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