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Peace, Common Sense, and Being a Lawyer


There’s probably some kind of computer software program that will review documents for not just grammatical and format issues, but also for things that just don’t make sense or are incongruent, that don’t “compute” and so, must have been written in error. And if that program does exist and if it were to review this story, I’m guessing it would have difficulty getting past the title. Jokes about lawyers and their single-minded quest for money and victory regardless of the cost? These jokes run rampant. One would be hard-pressed to find a Netflix special or movie portraying lawyers as level headed, calm, applying common sense to the problem at hand, let alone portraying the profession as peaceful.

But we do exist!

I am a settlement based lawyer which, essentially, means I choose to assist people in conflict to reach their own resolutions rather than ask that a third party impose a decision for them to adhere to. Not only does this provide parties the opportunity to consider their own unique interests, goals, fears, and expectations in reaching an agreement, but they generally have a greater chance of success in the implementation of what they agreed to do than in following an order issued by someone whose only knowledge of those individuals has been during a time when they typically show the worst of themselves.

And this is especially true in the context of family breakdown, separation, and divorce. The greater the love that began the relationship, the greater the pain, grief, and anger in the ending.

Many people hear the word divorce and instantly conjure images of the warrior lawyer stepping forward to protect the husband/father/wife/mother in distress. Of course with any image of war, there is then the warrior lawyer on the other side of the proverbial line in the sand, holding firm the position that it is their client who is the one in distress and in need of a protector.

And somewhere in the midst of the noise, dust, and confusion of the battle are children. It is estimated that 35% of Canadian children are affected by divorce and that statistically these children are more likely to have addiction issues and problems with peers, suffering at twice the rate than children of intact families with anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues. Knowing this, the question lawyers who practice family law must consider is how to help parents to mitigate the negative impact on their children resulting from the decision to live lives separate and apart from each other. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (but perhaps just someone with a bit of common sense) to recognize that the answer certainly isn’t by feeding the conflict and escalating the war.


Across Canada there are lawyers who are thinking about this question and committing to the use of peaceful process options, such as mediation and collaborative law. These processes support the family in crisis rather than using the law in a way that then becomes the cause of the crisis. They create room for other professionals so that the families’ needs can be met, whether those needs are education on budgeting for two homes compared to one, the need for coaching on how to communicate respectfully and effectively, or the need for experts to provide objective opinions that the parties can rely on in making difficult decisions.

I am honoured to be part of this group and to be practicing as a peace-making lawyer so that there can be less trials and more smiles!


By: Charmaine Panko, L.L.B., C. Med., Q. Arb. Panko Collaborative Law & Mediation

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