Sep 01, 2019
An Interview with Elaine Quinn, Founder of The Conscious Lawyer
Sep 01, 2019
By Barbara Monty
What is The Conscious Lawyer?
The Conscious Lawyer started as an online magazine in early 2017, and has since evolved into a website with articles about a variety of established and emerging conscious law practices. I appreciate that the term “conscious” can mean different things to different people. One way of understanding the term, particularly in relation to being a lawyer, could be: to be awake to the reality that we are all deeply interconnected, and that therefore how we practice law can and does either positively or negatively impact ourselves, others and the world around us. When we are practicing unconsciously, perhaps we are blindly following long-established practices and principles without considering their potential for harm. In the time-pressured and challenging circumstances we work in, we are understandably often oscillating between these two states of wake-ness and sleep-ness. Many, though, do seem to be realizing that the law often can do more harm than good and seem to be striving to bring more awake-ness, more awareness, more compassion, and more love, to the practice. It is an incredibly exciting time because this historic profession is undergoing radical change and offers way more possibilities for ways of working than it did twenty, even ten, years ago.
Who publishes it, from where, how often?
Four editions of the magazine were published online. It has evolved into a website where lawyers, legal academics and others with an interest in the law can publish their writing, and even artworks and poetry. There is a great repository of ideas, interviews and initiatives from different legal areas like contemplative law, animal law, restorative justice, earth law, conscious contracts, and law and spirituality. Although the website is UK-based, contributions are welcome from around the world and that is reflected in the content already up on the site!
Why was The Conscious Lawyer started?
The idea originated at a time when I had started some academic research on the integration of mindfulness into legal education in the UK. The academic papers on the state of legal education in the UK and abroad were quite disillusioning: rising levels of stress and depression among law students; rising levels of university tuition fees resulting in increased interest in the higher paying corporate legal jobs; and greater focus by law schools on churning out market-ready law graduates. At that time, the integrative law movement was emerging, and even flourishing, in the U.S. and it felt like a good idea to help bring more attention to the positive possibilities the movement offered. I was working for a commercial law firm in London, and responsible for editing and publishing a legal bulletin for insurance clients, so the idea of beginning a magazine for the conscious law movement was born.
What drew you to do this?
For almost five years, I worked in a large law firm in Sydney. During this time, I was developing a regular practice of meditation and spiritual inquiry. It became clear that these seemingly separate aspects of my life were intertwined, and mutually beneficial. Prior to learning about meditation, I had experienced a considerable amount of anxiety practicing law—there seemed to be so many rigid rules and regulations that applied to every situation, and so many possibilities for things to go wrong. I would consider every problem and issue from a tight, overly-intellectualized perspective (because that is how I had been education and trained). It didn't feel like there was much space within law practice to breathe, to relax, to think and feel spaciously and creatively about practical, as well as legal, solutions that would really benefit clients. Meditation and other contemplative practices enabled me to develop, and start to embed, those skills despite the time-pressured and heavily rule-based environment and industry I was working within. I started to realize that these skills were incredibly beneficial to my ability to practice law effectively, that it must be the same for other lawyers, and that therefore it was a very worthwhile endeavor to explore further.
What is your background?
I was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland in 2007, to the California Bar in 2009, and to the Roll of Solicitors in England & Wales in 2016. Since 2008, I have practiced in Ireland (a general practice in my hometown of Longford), in Sydney (as a disputes lawyer with international law firm Kennedys), and in London (as a practice development and knowhow lawyer with international law firm Pinsent Masons). Working freelance for several years when I moved to London allowed me the flexibility and space to envision, and eventually create, the magazine. I think the evolution of freelancing within law is another element that can really drive positive change, as more and more lawyers have the time to be innovative and explore other passions. This can contribute to increasingly breaking up the rigidity and stuffiness traditionally associated with being a lawyer, and that can only be a good thing.
Who writes for the magazine, and what are some of the topics?
There is a real wealth of articles, ideas and initiatives available to read on the website from a range of unique and inspiring voices. There are too many to mention and I would encourage anyone who is interested to visit the website here. Some of these include:
- Inspiring interviews with pioneer lawyers and legal academics Peter Gabel (law and spirituality), the late Polly Higgins (the law of ecocide), Dr Marjorie Silver (transforming legal education), and J. Kim Wright (the integrative law movement). [Editor’s Note: Kim Wright spoke to MCBA’s ADR section just last month.]
- Art/Law Network founder Dr Lucy-Finchett Maddock, bringing together a gathering of artists, lawyers, and agitators, to work and collaborate for change.
- Swiss animal welfare attorney Antoine Geotschel and academic Dr. Sabine Brels, who have founded the Global Animal Law Project, on the legal status of animals.
- UK-based integrative lawyer Rhiannon Thomas, who writes about an integrative approach to end-of-life conversations and creating values-based wills.
- California-based artist and writer Kim Vanderheiden, who has created a beautiful body of work on justice and love, including establishing the Justice Conversation website.
- Dutch lawyer and one of the pioneers of earth restorative justice Femke Wijdekop writes about her work.
- Indian Intellectual property lawyer Manojna Yeluri writes about her 'coffee for contracts' experiment providing creatives with legal counsel in exchange for a cup of coffee.
- …and the planned series of pieces on bringing forgiveness into law practice written by yourself and mediator/lawyer Eileen Barker, with the first part appearing this past April.
As well as those mentioned above, there are a number of excellent networks and groups that I am aware of—some of which are long established, and some of which have recently emerged—including:
- The Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics (PISLAP), a US nationwide network of lawyers, law professors, law students, legal workers, and others who are seeking to develop a new spiritually-informed approach to law and social change, and who have come together for over twenty years. As well as an annual conference, PISLAP run a regular series of conference calls with speakers from different backgrounds within the movement. For more information, and to be updated about these calls, you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (ISTJ) (including their newly established UK branch). Co-founded by David Wexler and Bruce Winick in 1987, therapeutic jurisprudence is an interdisciplinary field of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. It is possible to become a member of ISTJ here and to subscribe to their regular blog and newsletter here.
- Forrest Webb and Legal Changemakers' Cafes, a recently formed group of lawyers working on transforming what it means to be a lawyer through collaboration and exploration of how to make the world a better place. The Legal Changemakers' Cafes are a great way to get together with other lawyers in person or on-line to talk about all of these topics.
- New Economy Law, an initiative recently established by UK-based lawyer Mothiur Rahman, who has also been working closely with the Extinction Rebellion movement in the UK, described as "a Legal Innovation Lab strengthening civic resilience for precarious futures."
- Nature's Rights (previously Rights for Nature Europe). Founded by UK lawyer Mumta Ito, this is a young, international non-profit organization committed to establishing rights of nature in law and policy in Europe and around the world.
- Stop Ecocide—Change the Law (previously Mission Life Force). Emerging from the work of well-known earth lawyer Polly Higgins (who passed away earlier this year, leaving an incredible legacy of work behind her), this movement is working to make Ecocide (the serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems, including climate and cultural damage) an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court—alongside Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. There is an opportunity to start government petitions to stop ecocide here.
- Wild Law Special Interest Group. Emerging out of the book by Cormac Cullinan, wild law seeks to align law with ecology and the science of living systems.
I begin maternity leave shortly, and am hoping to have more time to reflect on this question!
How does one become connected to or involved in the goals of the magazine or submit articles?
Anyone interested in writing an article about any topic with a conscious law perspective, or simply interested in learning more, is welcome to make contact by emailing email@example.com.