In this episode, I am excited to have Lauren Rad on to talk about the importance of nurturing creativity as a lawyer and the wellness benefits that come from utilizing your right brain artistically.
Lauren Clark Rad is an attorney at Ferguson Case Orr Paterson LLP in her hometown of Ventura, California, where she practices employment law and business litigation. If you’d like to join a group of stitchers in the law profession, you can find her on Facebook here, or by searching for Legally Stitching.
- Lauren kicks off the show by talking more in-depth about what she does to cultivate her creativity: knitting! She talks about both the benefits she sees in making time for knitting in her schedule, as well as some of the studies showing knitting’s effect on cognitive and emotional health.
- The reasons knitting is perfect for lawyers because of its tactile nature as well as it’s portability and low cost to start, as well as fighting the stigma around knitting and the stares you can receive knitting in public as a lawyer.
- We talk about the Mindful Lawyer Community and why it is so important to have a creative outlet group, because lawyers are some of the loneliest working professionals out there. We don’t get a lot of chances for social interaction depending on our practice, so it is up to us to make a proactive effort to be social and creative.
- She talks about different ways she harbors a community for knitting, through an ongoing chat and quarterly webinars, tools she uses such as Slack, and knitting as a feminist activity.
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Lauren Rad: [00:00:06] And the law is kind of like a gas and will expand to fill whatever space you give it. If you give it your entire day, it will find a way to fill your entire day.
Intro: [00:00:18] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:00:41] Hello my friends, thanks for joining me for another episode of The Resilient Lawyer podcast. Today I have Lauren Rad on the show, Lauren and I connected on Twitter. So I really love it when I meet lawyers on Twitter and I get to meet them in real life. So my husband Jeff is from Ventura and his mom still lives there, so I had an opportunity to meet Lauren in person over the holidays last year. Lauren is an attorney and she is from Ventura, California where she practices employment law and business litigation. Also, Lauren and I started a community of lawyers who are into stitching or any kind of needlework. So if you’re interested in joining us, you can look for the Facebook group “Legally Stitching,” or you can also check out the show notes. And with that, here’s Lauren. Lauren, welcome to the show.
Lauren Rad: [00:01:39] Hello. Thank you so much for having me.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:42] Lauren, let’s start by just having you give us a quick 30-second introduction of who you are and what you do.
Lauren Rad: [00:01:49] Sure. So I have been working as a practicing litigator for the last eight years. I graduated from law school in 2010 and spent my first three years at a large firm in downtown L.A. And after about that time was when my husband and I were starting to think about what we really wanted our long-term life to look like. So we figured we wanted to be closer to family and decided to move up to Ventura, which is where I’m from originally. And I landed a job in a wonderful little firm up here where I’ve been practicing ever since. Our clients are mostly local businesses, small companies, and individuals out in the community. So I really like having that local client base and getting to meet face-to-face with people on a regular basis. So that is what my practice looks like now. In the in-between time, you can usually find me stitching somewhere; there’s always a bundle of yarn and needles in my purse (except when I go into the courthouse because they won’t let me take the needles in there). Other than that, I’m stitching during the break time, I’m playing with my toddler, and hanging out with lovely folks on Twitter.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:55] Great. So the reason why I wanted to have you on this show is because you and I are starting a Mindful Lawyer Community, and we’ll talk a little bit more about that later in the show. But I wanted to start the conversation by talking about why it’s important for lawyers to cultivate and nurture their creative side. And I know that you actually started knitting as a way to kind of cultivate more time for downtime and relaxation, and also to tap into your creativity. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got into knitting?
[00:03:38] Sure. So I’m hearing actually a couple parts to that question, and I’ll try to answer them all as I come to them. I started knitting my first semester of law school. My seatmate in my criminal law class taught me how to knit one evening a few weeks before final exams when I was really feeling kind of stressed out and anxious. And I didn’t really have good coping skills for that, other than to bury my head and keep trying to study, which as most of us know is a recipe for disaster eventually. So I got together with my friend, we went to the yarn shop together. She helped me pick out my first set of needles and my first couple balls of yarn, and we sat down over a pot of tea and she taught me the basics. And I’ve kind of been stitching ever since. It’s been my coping technique for getting through final exams, I knit a blanket while studying for the bar exam, I knit all through practice, and I knit now.
There’s a lot of data out there showing that lawyers have a particularly high rate of stress, anxiety, and depression. I think most of us have seen that 2016 survey from The ABA that I surveyed I think over 12,000 lawyers, and about two-thirds of them reported dealing with anxiety at some point in their professional life. And another 40 some odd percent of respondents reported dealing with depression at some point during their professional life. Which is a startlingly high number when compared to other fields. And so I think you and I both recognize, and the science is starting to also reflect, that having time for creativity and for engaging different parts of your brain is really helpful for dealing with those pressures and those stressors. And I think particularly given the types of pressures that lawyers deal with and the types of personalities you often see in law, it is extra important to have the time to sit down and do something other than law for a little while.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:47] Yeah, it’s so true. I think when you’re a lawyer there is almost this expectation that we place on ourselves that the only thing we’re allowed to do is work and do client stuff. And then if you have a family, you’re allotted some time for your family. But to say, “Oh I ‘ m going to take a painting class, or I’m going to take a writing class, or I’m going to take a knitting class,” or whatever it might be. I think as a community we sort of frown upon that, we kind of go shouldn’t you be billing right now?
Lauren Rad: [00:06:26] There’s definitely a lot of pressure there. And the law is kind of like a gas and will expand to fill whatever space you give it. So if you give it your entire day, it will find a way to fill your entire day.
Jeena Cho: [00:06:39] Right, especially with the billable hour’s system, right? There’s always more hours that you can bill, it’s sort of like this endless supply of work that never really ends. I think you sometimes hear people say things like, you know why don’t you go take up knitting as an insult. And I love this Twitter thread (which we’ll also put in the show notes), it’s kind of setting the record straight on knitting and why we shouldn’t use that phrase as an insult. And I also know that you started knitting while you were at Harvard Law School, so I guess just to kind of back up a little bit while you were in law school and you’re sitting there knitting with I guess a small group of other students, how is that received by your other classmates?
Lauren Rad: [00:07:39] Well, I think there were probably a lot of people who were confused by it. There were certainly plenty of people who thought it was neat and interesting, and there were a lot of people who kind of rolled their eyes I’m sure, though they didn’t do it directly to us (which was very kind of them). But it was certainly unusual. There was a little corner in our Student Center where there was a fireplace and some sofas, and that was particularly cozy during the winter months when it seemed like the snow and the dark was just never-ending. Especially for somebody who had grown up in Ventura and had never seen snow falling from the sky until I lived through my first Massachusetts winter. And so having that that cozy space was really nice, but it also meant that we were a little tucked out of the way because it was a quiet corner. And so we weren’t sitting in the middle of the quad, where the entire school could see us as they were passing by. It was certainly something that was very visible to anybody who was nearby, but it wasn’t a spectacle. And I think most people thought it was just a charming eccentricity, like so many other people in law school have.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:53] What are some of the benefits you get out of knitting? I mean obviously you knit something and you create something that you can wear, that others can wear, or that you can gift. But the actual act of knitting?
Lauren Rad: [00:09:10] Let’s see, where to start? Knitting for me is very much a peaceful, soothing practice. I like to sit quietly in the corner and have that very tactile experience. Practicing law is a very cerebral thing. You don’t get to touch a lot of things; you don’t get to do a lot of motion. Most of the time you’re reading, you’re writing, that’s about it. And so knitting is really a nice change of pace in that way. It’s also very kind of slow, gentle, rhythmic, practice; it helps to slow the breathing, slow the heart rate, slow the racing mind a bit too. So for me, knitting is very much a soothing thing. It’s also really nice to have, as you mentioned, a physical product at the end of my work. Where I can point to that and I can say, “I put X number of hours into that and Y number of balls of yarn and Z number of stitches, and here’s what I made.” There are times when practicing law when we will have an entire day when all you have to show for all the hard work you’ve done is maybe a couple of pages of notes or some e-mails.
[00:10:20] And it is really nice to have a physical work product as kind of a counterweight to that sensation. For me, I also love that knitting is portable and quiet. I am a very fidgety sort of person, and if I’m sitting in a meeting and I’m not keeping my hands busy I find myself tearing little pieces of paper, or clicking my pen nonstop, or popping the lid on and off of my coffee cup without realizing, clicking and unclicking my watch strap. You know, all sorts of unconscious movement. So knitting gives me something to do with my hands that is just enough that it keeps my hands occupied and stops the fidgeting, and lets my brain focus on what’s happening in front of me. So I’m not tempted to play with my phone or make a mess of things with my papers, I can just sit and focus and listen. So knitting is very helpful in that aspect as well.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:19] You know, I’ve been sewing for many, many years. I started quilting when I was in college, maybe it was law school I can’t remember. I actually really enjoyed learning how to knit with you, because unlike sewing which requires A. a sewing machine, it’s just like the amount of supplies that you need. Even to just start a basic sewing project (unless you’re willing to sew by hand) there’s a considerable amount of financial commitment. And with knitting, all you need are needles and a ball of yarn. I feel like there’s a really great, easy entry into learning how to knit.
Lauren Rad: [00:12:06] Absolutely. I love that it’s got a low up-front cost for starting and that the learning curve is very easy. You can pick up the basics in one or two hours. As you and I both know, we both learned the initial aspects of knitting in one session with a friend showing us what to do.
[00:12:23] And that’s one of the things that I think makes it so great for lawyers and law students too, is you don’t have to invest three years into learning how to do something before you’re proficient enough that you can show another person. It’s not like taking up the piano from the beginning and having to practice every day for an hour for two or three years before you’re competent enough that you can play a reasonably interesting piece; it’s something that you can really learn the basics of pretty quickly. But on the other hand, once you learn the basics there are infinite variations on the basics and so many things beyond that so that you really never stop learning. I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and I’m only just getting into interesting questions of sweater construction; how do I do an inset shoulder versus a round yolk sweater, or do I want to do a raglan yolk? And all of those different design details that I haven’t really thought about before because I was working from other people’s patterns, but now that I’ve started designing my own that opens up a whole new door of things to learn. So it’s easy to learn, but then it also has a whole bunch of things that you can take up later down the line if you want to.
Jeena Cho: [00:13:40] Yeah, yeah definitely. Maybe we can shift gears and talk about the Mindful Lawyer Community. To start, why is it important for lawyers to have a community, specifically around mindfulness and creativity?
Lauren Rad: [00:13:56] Well you know, there was an interesting study that came out within the last month or so that looked at the rates of loneliness among different professions. And I was really struck by the fact that it looks like lawyers are some of the loneliest professionals out there. They use the loneliness scale to rate the loneliness of the various survey respondents, and 61 % of the lawyers who responded showed above average levels of loneliness in their responses. Which wasn’t really a surprise to me; the law is in one way a very social profession, because you do have to meet with clients and you have to work with teammates. But in other ways, it can be very isolating if you spend your days at your desk, working on your computer, researching and writing, and you may not have much chance to interact with people on some days. And depending on the kind of practice you have, you really may not interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. If you have a small solo practice, or if you have a practice that your subject matter doesn’t require you to go out and do a ton of discovery or witness interviews, you may not be meeting with clients all that regularly. And so I think it is understandable that lawyers are fairly lonely as a profession. We’ve both seen in our interactions with people in real life and online that lawyers are really looking for a community of some sort, where they can come together in a less stressful and less competitive environment.
[00:15:30] I notice that a lot of the extracurricular activities that are pushed towards lawyers can still be kind of stressful. Whether it’s getting involved in your local bar association, where there’s a lot of pressure to do things exactly perfectly and put on a good impression for all the other local community members. Or whether it’s getting involved in something like a local sports league, where there are winners and losers every time. And I think there’s a real need and a craving for a space where people can just come together and just be.
[00:16:07] So I’m really excited that we have something like this, where everybody is able to contribute something, nobody’s contribution is more valuable than another, and everybody can get something out of it. I think that’s very special.
Jeena Cho: [00:16:23] Yeah, the thing I always notice is that there are no easy answers. Like how do I be more mindful in my day to day interactions with other people, how do I be more mindful of my interactions with myself? How do I find time for creative outlets, how do I learn to incorporate a new hobby into my life? Or even finding ways of practicing law with purpose and meaning. All of these questions are I think ones that we all sort of struggle with and are turning over in our heads, but there are no easy answers. And I think there’s just so much value in sort of living the question and holding those questions, and also doing it in community. Because someone might say, oh you know this is how I find time to meditate every morning. And a lightbulb might go off and go, oh I can totally do that and that’s totally how I can make this work in my own schedule. So I think that idea of cross-pollinating, and also just realizing that the struggles that you have aren’t unique to you, you know?
Lauren Rad: [00:17:38] Absolutely, I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that loneliness and stress and isolation can make you feel like you’re the only one who is experiencing certain things. And just the fact of having a community where other people can say, “Oh, you too? Me too!” is crucial. You know, having that space where you can have those shared experiences and realize that you’re not alone is so helpful.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:12] Yeah, yeah. And the other thing that I really love about knitting is that it can be a solo activity, but you can also do it in community. And I think that’s really one of the great joys and benefits of taking up a hobby like knitting.
Lauren Rad: [00:18:32] Absolutely. You know one of the things I love about knitting is that it’s something you can teach yourself, but it’s so much easier to learn from somebody else. And so from the very beginning, it is something that introduces you into a community through the process of learning. You know, you become part of this lineage of knitters who’ve taught each other over the years. There’s something very special about having that tie to people who went before me; I draw a deep sense of comfort and stability out of having that connection with generations of people before me. And knitting becomes something that you can do in community anywhere; you can have a knitting circle that meets at a local coffee shop, or a local yarn shop, or the park. I have a lawyer knitting circle that meets at my office once a month. We use one of the conference rooms here and we all bring whatever project we’re working on, and I put out some tea and some carrot sticks or whatever we have on hand for snacks and we just spend an hour and a half talking and knitting. In fact, it’s really neat to have that space where we all bring something, we all leave with something.
Jeena Cho: [00:19:46] Ahh, I love that. I wish I was physically closer to you so I can join you in your monthly knitting.
Lauren Rad: [00:19:52] Agreed, you would fit in perfectly.
Jeena Cho: [00:19:57] And that actually ties in nicely with the community that we’re building, the Mindful Lawyer Community. So you and I circulated this survey, which we’ll also include in the show notes for the listeners out there that are interested in getting involved. But there was a very sort of clear theme and feedback that we got, (I think we got probably close to about 200 responses) and certainly this is true in my own life experience so it didn’t surprise me that the folks that responded to the survey also said this, that lawyering can be really isolating and lonely. It doesn’t matter if you’re working in a law firm with 500 lawyers, you can still feel lonely and isolated. And we’re looking for a community where we can share our challenges and just get support; this wanting to have a sense of belonging and having a connection with ourselves and others. And also I got the sense that there’s a growing generation of lawyers that are sort of rejecting this old way of practicing law that lawyering doesn’t have to be a life of misery and dread. That we can find purpose and meaning and joy in what we do, and that we want to create a life where it feels sustainable and good.
Lauren Rad: [00:21:29] Yeah, I think you’ve really covered my thoughts on that point. I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last several years thinking about what a good community looks like and what makes a good community, and how to build connections between people. Because that’s something that’s very important to me, is trying to help as many people feel connected to each other as possible. And I think one of the most important things about having a strong community is that you have a trust economy when everyone trusts each other and you all buy into that community and you’ve all committed to the community; that really forges strong ties. And that’s something that I think this community can really bring to the table, is the fact that we are talking about scary topics for a lot of lawyers. You know, people come in and they say I have struggled with these things in my professional life, and I want to find a way to cope in a better way with them, and I want to share the things that I’ve learned to cope with other people who might be struggling. And all of those things really build a level of trust among everybody that I think is crucial to having a good, strong community. And I’m really excited to see where it goes.
Jeena Cho: [00:22:45] Yeah. Can you talk briefly about what is this community that we’re building, the platform, and also what’s included in the membership?
Lauren Rad: [00:22:59] Yeah, absolutely. So the community is really designed to encourage three things: it’s designed to foster connections between lawyers, it’s designed to help them incorporate mindfulness practices into their daily lives (in all sorts of different ways, and in whatever ways works best for them), and it’s designed to help introduce a little more creativity and play into everybody’s daily lives. One of the things that we see from our survey respondents is that a lot of them are really looking for a way to incorporate just a little bit of fun into their everyday lives. They may not have time for three hours on something, but they have time for a five-minute writing exercise, or assembling a five-song playlist, or taking a picture of something unusual. And so that’s one of the things that we really want to encourage with everybody.
We’re starting out with a Slack community. For those who are new to the Slack platform, it is very simple and very easy to use. I describe it to some people as kind of like the old AOL chat rooms, where things are broken up by subject and you can just go in and talk with people about it. But these are invitation-only communities, so you need to have somebody invite you into the community. So you don’t get random people wandering, in saying rude things and then leaving again. This is a much more carefully monitored community.
Jeena Cho: [00:24:30] Yeah.
Lauren Rad: [00:24:31] We are also, as part of that community we have separate discussion channels set up for mindfulness, for daily creative writing exercises. We have a general channel, where people can talk about whatever they feel like. And then we’ll be adding more over the next couple of months or so. We’re also planning to have monthly office hours, both with you and with me. Though we have different areas of expertise, so there may be a different audience for those. As you are the mindfulness pro here. That was one of the things that really made me so interested in your Twitter presence, was how thoughtful and gentle you were with everything that you were sharing. And I think people will respond well to that. And then I am sort of the yarn and sticks guru, for lack of a better phrase. So if they have questions about knitting projects that they’re starting or crochet projects, I can certainly help with that as well. Knitting is my primary yarn craft, but I’m also a proficient crocheter, or a little bit of needlework and embroidery as well. So you know, we can cover those bases there each month.
[00:25:44] We’re also going to be having quarterly, or perhaps more frequent webinars, everything from mindfulness to creative activities, productivity skills, organizational skills; whatever our members are really interested in, that they think would help them build more fruitful and content practice lives. That’s kind of the gist of where we’re headed right now. I know you and I have been kicking around lots of other ideas for things that we can add down the line, but that is the core of the Mindful Lawyers Community right now.
Jeena Cho: [00:26:21] And for the listeners out there that are interested in learning more about the Mindful Lawyers Community, if you want to come and hang out with us right now and sign up page is at jeenacho.com/mlc, for “Mindful Lawyer Community”. That will also be in the show notes, but I think soon the Mindful Lawyer Community will have its own home and a website, and we’re really excited. We’ve gotten some really, really great feedback and the response has been really surprising. So I think it really goes to show that we as lawyers are looking for a different way of practicing law. We want to integrate more mindfulness, creativity, play, and just be like whole human beings. I feel like sometimes as lawyers we forget that we’re human beings, that we’re not human doings. And I think it’s really nice when we can connect with others who are on a similar journey and path.
Lauren Rad: [00:27:29] Absolutely.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:30] Lauren so before I let you go, I have one more question for you. The name of the podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?
Lauren Rad: [00:27:41] I think one of the keys to maintaining resilience as a lawyer is not letting the perfectionism throw you off too badly. There are going to be bumps in the road in any practice, and it’s easy to think that if you’ve made a mistake you are a failure and you’re not cut out for this and you’re never going to be a good lawyer, so you should just give up now. And one of the things that I’ve learned through my knitting practice is that mistakes happen, and most of the time they’re fixable. And most of the time, going back and fixing them isn’t actually as painful as you think it’s going to be. And that really does map well into professional life as well. There are going to be mistakes, and most of the time they’re fixable. If you take a moment, sit down, read the pattern all the way through before you start, think about what you’re working on, and have a roadmap for how you’re going to get there; if you make an occasional small mistake on the way through, you can usually go back and fix it. And that has really helped me work through some of the perfectionism derailing issues that can cause challenges in day-to-day practice as well.
Jeena Cho: [00:28:54] I love that. Lauren, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. I really appreciate it.
Lauren Rad: [00:29:00] It’s been such a pleasure, thanks for having me.
Closing: [00:29:07] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please tell a friend. It’s really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and look forward to seeing you next week.