Despite the benefit of having a PVR to fast-forward through commercials, I recently stumbled across a lawyer’s television ad based on revenge as a motivator. The ad opened with a miserable looking middle aged woman sitting on the couch. Her equally foul husband walks in, grabs the remote, sits down and shoots her a dirty look. She replies in kind. Cut to the picture on the television they are watching – a smiling, attractive woman says “Last Christmas Eve, my ex served me with divorce papers and ruined my Christmas. Two days later, I retained [fill in the blank] and Associates and ruined his New Year.” (smiling). The couple on the couch pauses a moment, then both jump for the phone – presumably to be the first to retain the hatchet man in the ad. The commercial reminded me of an old lawyer joke (and as a former lawyer, I have heard more than my share). Q: Why do lawyers have such a bad reputation? A: The 99% keep giving the 1% a bad name. (I should point out that ninety percent of the lawyers I know fall into the 1% – I guess I’ve been lucky.)
I found it interesting that the lawyer’s ad tapped into a potential client’s need to make their spouse suffer, rather than appealing to a positive goal (an efficient, fair resolution). In my work as a conflict resolution professional, I often hear people speak of the desire for “justice”. Their version of justice often involves a degree of suffering for the the other person. Revenge is perhaps a way for a victim to take back power they feel they have lost. The question remains, however: does revenge achieve that end? Or is it closure that allows a victim to heal and move forward?
Those familiar with The Princess Bride may remember the character, Inigo, who has spent his entire life seeking revenge (“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.“) At the end of movie, when asked about his future, he responds “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
Fortunately, two movements have emerged to offer different approaches to justice. Restorative justice (also known as victim-offender mediation) became formalized in Canada in the late 1980’s and is now a recognized part of the criminal justice system. The goal of restorative justice is to repair the wrong, not simply by punishing the offender, but by including the victim in the process and creating solutions that meet the needs of the victim and community. Outcomes may involve apology, explanation, restitution or other acts of service. Instead of being objectified, the offender must listen to the victim, understand the impact of their actions and participate in an outcome designed to hold the offender accountable for their behaviour. The focus is healing, not punishment.
Similarly, in the area of family law and divorce, an approach called “collaborative divorce law” is rapidly gaining acceptance. In collaborative divorce law, lawyers for both sides agree to assist the clients to resolve conflicts by employing cooperative techniques rather than adversarial strategies and litigation. All parties and their lawyers enter into a “Participation Agreement” where it is agreed that if a settlement is not reached, the lawyers will withdraw from the process and not participate in the ensuing litigation. In other words, there is no incentive for the lawyers to drag proceeding into court. Some forms of collaborative divorce law also employ “divorce coaches” or counselors to assist parties with the emotional aspects of the process. For further information, check out “A Client’s Guide to Collaborative Divorce” at http://www.sheddenfamilylaw.co.uk/book-club.php.
Although advertisements preying on the need for revenge may grab our attention, I find it gratifying to know that many professionals in the legal system work tirelessly to redefine “justice” and healing. And perhaps leave revenge to the movies.