Baha'i News -- Holistic Law Proposed as Means of Settling Y2K Disputes

Holistic Law Proposed as Means of Settling Y2K Disputes

By Barbara Stahura

(ANS) -- By all measures, Y2K is already taking a toll on business in terms of lost revenue and increased stress, with some small companies planning to fold rather than fix the problem. Then there are the lawsuits, with projected costs for all Y2K litigation so far pegged at $1 trillion.

While many attorneys are eagerly anticipating years of work stemming from these suits, practitioners of holistic law believe there is a better way.

According to Vermont attorney William van Zyverden, founder of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers, holistic law shifts participants away from the culture of winners and losers, or from what he terms "adversarial disempowerment."

Instead, says Carroll Straus, an alliance member in Southern California, holistic law relies heavily on mediation and a process whereby "people sit down and wrestle in a creative way with the problem to come up with a solution."

If traditional litigation is about punishment and blame, holistic law is based on compassion and forgiveness, which is overall a healthier strategy, say its practitioners, who advocate the concept as a win-win proposition.

Straus says people who believe litigation to be the best method for resolving any kind of legal dispute may be unable to accept mediation because to them it means revealing a lack of strength. "Part of our addiction to conflict has shown us that we must not show weakness," said Straus.

So far, a dozen large corporations, including General Mills and Bank of America, have pledged to use alternative dispute resolution for Y2K disputes, but van Zyverden and Straus say convincing most parties to forego litigation in favor of mediating Y2K disputes will be a hard sell.

People who believe they have been harmed often want someone else to pay, yet "it's obvious to most who have gone through the legal system that it doesn't bloody well work," says Straus. "For human beings, traditional law is truly destructive."

In a traditional lawsuit, two parties come together to do battle, which often leaves one, or both, bloody, vanquished and broke. While this outcome might be satisfying in some ways, says van Zyverden, it often damages all participants at deeper levels.

The harm may come from playing dirty and trying to win at all costs, which as a lawyer van Zyverden says he refuses to do. He tells prospective clients he will be assertive for them in the strongest way, but he won't use underhand tactics to win. He asks clients if they can accept losing in the eyes of the world if it means retaining their honor and dignity. If not, he does not take on the case.

Van Zyverden compares holistic law to holistic medicine, which also required decades for popular acceptance. In a holistic world view, "There is a 'whole' of things," he says. "Nothing happens out of context," whether an illness or a Y2K dispute. This means the event is part of a larger picture and offers many opportunities for significant learning. In the same way that a person with a terminal illness can experience a spiritual healing in the process of dying, a person using holistic law techniques might discover a lesson much more profound, and ultimately more satisfying, than winning.

But it doesn't require a belief in metaphysics to understand that mediation might be the better road to take in a Y2K dispute. It could be just plain practical. Straus, who is a follower of the Baha'i faith and who also has "a very engineering kind of mind," says if the projections regarding Y2K litigation come true, the courts will be overburdened, even crippled, as thousands of suits lurch through the system.

"I run the numbers, show them how much time and money it costs to litigate," said Straus. "It will take less time, won't get you involved with a government that has its own problems, and if you win, you won't have to go through an appeal," which is practically mandatory today and could take years and many more thousands of dollars to resolve.

"Lots of people don't know there's another way," she says.

According to van Zyverden, the bottom line in holistic law and in solutions to any legal dispute, even Y2K problems, is "being part of the solution rather than exacerbating the problem. Take personal responsibility for not making it worse."

©Copyright 2002, Christian Science Monitor

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