The Passing of Bruce Winick

A client I’m quite fond of has felt unfulfilled with his career.  He’s got a wonderfully sharp, analytic mind and so I asked him if he ever considered law as a career.  He scoffed – commenting that lawyers suffered from an impaired moral sensibility.  While that’s an all-too-common belief (and at times, well placed) that moment put me in mind of a truly lovely man, and a great lawyer.  Bruce Winick died last week.  His life was the response to anyone who believed you could not be a lawyer and possess kindness and integrity. 

Winick may be best known as a co-founder of Thearpeutic Jurisprudence, the exploration of the psychological impact of law on individuals who are swept up in its process.    How is legal process harmful to our spirit?  How can the law be improved so that it inflicts less personal damage?  Winick and David Wexler counseled years ago in their initial work not to forget that legal involvement has profound emotional and psychological consequences.   They can be justly seen, and thanked,  as the forebears of Collaborative Law.

I sat next to Professor Winick a couple of years ago at a law teachers’ conference and, while he was perhaps the most eminent of the participants, he was gracious and warm.  His eyesight had been stolen by the illness that took his life last week.  He managed quite naturally and with good humor.  I recall his description of a fairly new form of (humane) legal analysis which he called a legal autopsy.  “What would happen,” he asked, “if we rewound some bit of case law (a conflict that had made it all the way to an appeals court) and explored if other choices could have been made, early on, to spare the participants the ravages of prolonged, intense, litigation?”  He authored a riveting account of the Terry Schiavo case to illustrate his point.  What to  most of us was a political flash point around the “right to life” debate, was, in Winick’s deft hands, a tragic story of a family ripped apart by many early decisions made with the help of lawyers for whom litigation was the only tool they knew.

We lost a fine man last week.  His passing should be noted in the collaborative law community.