We know that lawyers don’t do touchy feely. We also know that there are a lot of lawyers in South Africa trying to do things differently and feeling like they’re alone. So we have created SAILA, Southern Africa’s Integrative Lawyers Association.

It’s a community of integrative lawyers supporting each other to transform the practice of law towards problem-solving, peacemaking and healing.  Some are more into the problem-solving and some are more into the healing, there’s space for a wide variety of worldviews in SAILA!

To date we’ve held 6 gatherings and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. One lawyer told us that the support of SAILA has finally given her the courage to start doing the type of legal work she’s always wanted to try. Her practice is still composed of 75% of her traditional area of law, but she’s devoting 25% of her time to a new offering that she’s really excited about. Two other lawyers are delighted that SAILA has put them in touch with each other because we could see they both work with legal visual contracts. As neither of them has written or received much publicity about their work (yet) they haven’t been able to find each other online.

In September 2014 SAILA will begin operating on a subscription basis. For the cost of approximately two hours of billable time, you can join a community of lawyers across the country practicing law in new ways.

Being a SAILA member will enable you to:

  • Attend SAILA meetings with like-minded lawyers to support you in your professional and personal development. Some meetings are discussion groups, others are presentations of interest to lawyers eg: executive coaching for lawyers; dealing with anxiety; Creative Problem Solving Tools; Understanding the Neuroscience of Conflict
  • Be part of a Membership directory for the public looking for lawyers who practice client-centred lawyering and do things differently
  • Have access to discussion forums that will allow you to learn from colleagues on subjects such as “moving beyond the billable hour to project based fees” and other Integrative law topics.
  • Have a place to debrief some of the more taxing aspects of your practice
  • Have access to articles, sites and blogs relating to new practice areas and new practice methods
  • Receive significant discounts for CIL trainings and events, including the Annual Conference, more about that HERE.

Joining SAILA will help you realize you’re not alone in your thinking, it may give you the courage to design your practice in alignment with who you truly are and it may encourage you to take better care of all the parts of yourself – to realize your body is not just a life-support system for your intellect!

Lawyers tearful with gratitude is something we’re quite familiar with at the Centre for Integrative Law. Why? Because we work in a profession that brings us into daily contact with people in the grip of rage, tragedy grief, loss, separation and insecurity. It is a profession that expects us to miraculously not take on board any of our clients’ stuff. It is a profession that doesn’t allow for us to have our own emotions about these things or ways of releasing these emotions. Crying about cases is not going to help you in your quest for partnership or the corner office. It is a profession that demands we always have an answer to everyone’s problems. Often we work in organisations where there is very little tolerance for being wrong which cripples any desire we may have to try something new or be creative. Law is based on precedent. We do things this way “because we’ve always done it this way” and we don’t show chinks in the armour of our suits.

Is it any wonder that lawyers find it a relief to realize they are not alone in carrying this burden? To realize that there is indeed a whole repertoire of skills they did not get taught at law school that it might be time to learn. It is always a privilege to work with lawyers ready for change and grateful for support in the change process. This was our experience with many of the delegates during 3 days Integrative Law Training with Legal Aids Justice Centre Managers and senior managers from around the country in January 2014. These are lawyers doing brave work with the poorest of clients and limited resources.  But while in some ways the Legal Aid Lawyers’ experience may be very different from lawyers in private practice, in others it is very similar. Research shows that all over the world there are lawyers thinking:

  • The way I currently practice is not why I joined the legal profession.
  • I sometimes look around the legal system and feel like I am profoundly out of place, like I have landed on an alien planet.
  • I wish I could help my clients understand their own role in creating this conflict!
  • On this case I’d like to use a problem-solving model I’ve been told about and I’d like to see what happens if we brought everyone involved in this conflict into one room but I’m not sure I have the courage to try it.
  • I wish I had the ability to give each case the full benefit of my attention instead of being permanently rushed. I realize when I lie awake at night that mostly what my clients want is someone to tell their story to.

As more lawyers question the legal system and their role in it, they are wanting to connect with colleagues who are not despondent, but are actively pioneering change. The Global Alliance of Integrative Lawyers is beginning to take shape and it is hoped that SAILA will eventually become part of a global network.

You will be sent an invitation to join SAILA in August! Please contact the CIL with any suggestions or comments you may have regarding SAILA.

All the nice lawyers love a SAILA!

SAILA statue image


 “About 20% of lawyers, or one in five, are ‘walking wounded’, meaning functioning and practising law while attempting to cover up, hide, or camouflage his or her psychological distress.”

~ Professor Susan Daicoff in Lawyer, Know Thyself.

What’s SAILing got to do with lawyering? Southern Africa’s Integrative Lawyer’s Association (SAILA) has come into existence because of an emerging need for a space in which lawyers, who are ready to talk about the interior experience of being a lawyer, can connect and support each other. While the Centre for Integrative Law is a consultancy that provides workshops and training in Integrative Law, it appeared that informal gatherings were required for those lawyers wanting to dip a toe into the water of Integrative Law without signing up for a full day workshop just yet… and so SAILA was born.

Most lawyers are not even aware of this oddity – that in South Africa, in our law schools, law firms, law societies and in legal publications, rarely if ever is regard paid to what it is like to be a lawyer. What do lawyers experience, what do they feel? How do they set aside the trauma they may witness during the day, when it’s time to go home to their families at night? There may be the occasional mention of stress but aside from this, all focus is on the law and what lawyers do, and how far up the ranks they are climbing, and certainly not how they feel about it. Nor do we see stories about what lawyers do aside from legal work. Heaven forbid we should talk about women lawyers who are balancing motherhood and law or male lawyers who have spent so many hours at the office they no longer no know who they are supposed to be when they do spend time at home. Does it matter that there’s no public discourse about how it feels to be a lawyer, you may ask?

There is a chapter devoted to Lawyer and Law Student Distress in Lawyer, Know Thyself by Professor Susan Daicoff, which is reviewed here.  Daicoff’s research shows that:

 “About 20% of lawyers, or one in five, are ‘walking wounded’, meaning functioning and practising law while attempting to cover up, hide, or camouflage his or her psychological distress.”

Therefore it does matter that we continue to ignore lawyers’ experiences of practising law. If you look at global statistics for substance abuse and depression in the legal profession, you’ll see that they are approximately double that of the non-lawyer population.   It matters because if you happen to be a young associate who’s currently receiving psychiatric treatment, you may be thinking that you are at fault for not being tough enough to be a lawyer. It matters because research shows that the legal profession has higher levels of VT – Vicarious Trauma, than other counselling and advisory professions. It’s been put forward that this is largely as a result of lawyers never receiving any counselling themselves. While other professions provide training in managing trauma and ongoing supervision, the legal profession, for the most part, turns a blind eye and insinuates the lawyer is to blame for not handling the job. This applies not only to lawyers who deal in the devastation of divorce and abuse cases but also to those who work in high-stakes commercial litigation.

So yes, it is time we start talking about this issue. SAILA is just one avenue, among the many initiatives the Centre for Integrative Law is working on, where lawyers can start to talk to others in their profession about how it feels to be a lawyer. To date SAILA has had two meetings in Cape Town and there is interest in the Eastern Cape to start meetings and in Johannesburg. How exactly SAILA is going to be structured and what it ultimately would like to achieve are all up for debate. For now, it’s hoped that the forum will grow and that all lawyers who’ve attended a SAILA meeting will come again and bring a friend or two so that together we can find ways

  • to meet our own needs as lawyers so we don’t burn out
  • to discover the parts of the law that inspire us to continue practising
  • to re-connect with why we became lawyers in the first place
  • to find ways to bring more of who we are to the work we do

Please email if you wish to be notified about SAILA gatherings. The next Cape Town gathering is on Wednesday 16 October 2013 from 5-7pm.