Integrative Lawyer Feature: James Wynne

James Wynne


1.       What makes your soul sing?

Time in the outdoors. Particularly, away from the city, in the mountains, on a trail. The Karoo is a particular favourite. Actually, this is a question I’ve had to wrestle with as I haven’t always been clear on what gives me joy and, to some degree, I’m still going through the process of uncovering this aspect of myself. Meeting like-minded people with whom I can connect is another very appealing experience for me; often it will be what I call ‘emotionally-fluent people’, people who’ve worked on themselves, who understand the importance of ‘being’ rather then ‘doing’, who put aside ego, labels and qualifications, and meet me for me. They don’t have to eat lentils and mung beans, but it helps if they have a good sense of humour!

2.       What led you towards the Integrative Law Movement?

The first meeting of integrative lawyers arranged by Amanda at the Hotel School in 2012. It was refreshing to meet legal people who weren’t simply lawyers, but people too and people who care about more than just the law and practice. As someone who left law and then returned somewhat reluctantly, it was eye-opening to hear other lawyers who have become disillusioned with the traditional ways of legal practice and, for those who continue in law, how they reconcile their personal journeys with their practices. And on top of this, hearing of ‘integrative’ ways of practising (from the likes of Kim) made me sit up and take note.

3.       Can you briefly describe an “aha” moment in your legal career?

It was a recent moment when I was meeting another lawyer from one of the so-called ‘big’ firms. Our respective clients were around the table and we were there to negotiate a settlement. My client was open to making an offer and we approached the meeting in an open-minded way, genuinely hoping to find common ground and reach resolution in a friendly way. The other lawyer (who was fairly experienced) approached the meeting as gladiatorial combat, a call to arms, proceeded to lecture me on the merits of his client’s case and did so in such a boorish and dogmatic way that all hopes of reaching amicable agreement were dashed within the first 5 minutes. Subsequent to this initial meeting, this same lawyer telephonically threatened me with how ‘deep his client’s pockets are’ and how his client was intent on making my client pay. It wasn’t just what he said but the arrogant way he said it, that rankled. We did eventually reach agreement some months later, but it was almost in spite of rather than thanks to the lawyers! For me, this was such a clear indication of the traditional, adversarial, pick-up-the-cudgels way of lawyering and by a lawyer that may be seen by many lay- people as representing the more sophisticated and professional side of our profession. An example for me of precisely how I don’t want to act as a lawyer and how disappointing it is that our profession is often characterised by this type of behaviour.

4.       How do you integrate being a lawyer with taking care of your physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs?

Although I work within a small firm environment, this is as a consultant. This means I only get paid for the hours I bill and this gives me more flexibility both in terms of office hours – I come and go as I please – but also in how I work. I don’t have fee targets or employees and I try to bill for value given rather than simply for hours worked. Financially, this isn’t always rewarding and can be stressful, but I choose this rather than working in a corporate environment with the stresses that brings.

In some cases, I advise clients on what to do and let them do it themselves, rather than automatically taking up the role of legal representative. In these cases, which often involve counselling as much as legal advice, I often don’t charge or charge only once I have actually provided what I feel is value. This may mean billing 2 hours when I’ve spent double this on the matter. Particularly with litigious-type situations, I find that billing a client R1’500 per hour from the start and sending them an invoice for 2 hours work (of taking instructions and writing one snotty lawyer’s letter to the other side), doesn’t add value. That’s R3’000 for the client and I’ve achieved nothing for them yet. That doesn’t work for me.

Of course, some clients want to be represented (and need to be!) and I do that, but where possible, I don’t litigate and I try to resolve the matter rather than simply fighting my client’s corner. I will often pick up the phone rather than automatically sending written correspondence that comes across as formal and hard. And when matters get to litigation, I hand them over to litigators. I’m not prepared to waste my time and energy on fighting, even if it is other people’s battles.

As I’ve become more emotionally and spiritually aware, I’ve become more attracted to the counselling, mediation and alternative-dispute resolution side of practice, of finding common ground between parties, of facilitating the process between them. I want to grease the wheels of communication and commerce rather than take one side of the table and fight a corner. I try to take this thinking into my daily practice.

Outside being a lawyer, I exercise – yoga, run and some light gym – hike, love (my fiancée), and (with a coach) continue the process of unlocking me (an unfinished work!).

5.       What is the highest vision you hold for the legal profession?

I’d like to see our profession as being more facilitative and enabling, a conduit for better human relationships, be they personal or commercial. Impacting peoples’ lives in a positive way by resolving conflict, providing forums for both hearing and judgment, and being seen by society as constructive, progressive resources that acts with high moral and ethical standards. I suppose, to a large degree and to quote Kim, it’s “lawyers as peace-makers”. In a society that seems to become ever-more violent, we need peace-makers. At the risk of sounding idealistic and totally head-in-the-clouds, what I’m trying to say is that I think the profession has largely lost sight of its ability to help people interact and to solve problems; lawyers are seen as a grudge purchase, out to fleece people of their money and obstructive. This reputation should be changed; in my opinion, it is only lawyers doing themselves (and being) differently that will effect this change.



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