Everything That Rises Must Converge: Integrating spirituality, law, and politics

by Hon. Bruce Peterson and Stu Webb

The Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics (PISLAP)—a 20-year-old
informal coalition of reform-minded lawyers and law teachers—is at the forefront of
what is being called the “integrative law” movement. The group met in Minneapolis
this year to plan a major national conference, which will be held in Washington
D.C. in October 2018.

Spirituality. Law. Politics. Three of the most important spheres in our society, but very different. How can they be better integrated? How can the universal truths about human existence taught in all the major spiritual traditions be reflected in our legal and political systems? One Saturday this past June, at the Minneapolis Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, this question was explored by a group of law professors, public and private lawyers, and restorative justice professionals from around the country called the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics, or PISLAP (pronounced “pie-slap”).

PISLAP is at the forefront of what is being called the “integrative law” movement, which is flowering in Minnesota, the birthplace of collaborative law and home to a growing network of restorative justice programs, a statewide array of therapeutic or “problem-solving” courts, and excellent mindfulness programs for lawyers. PISLAP seeks to develop the unifying theme behind these and other legal reforms that emphasize respectful and healing legal processes.

The problem is not hard to state and not easy to solve. Science is increasingly clear that human health depends on strong social connections. New brain-scanning technologies reveal that contributions stimulate the same area of the brain as rewards. Frequency of use of the words ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’ is a stronger predictor of mortality from heart disease than blood pressure or cholesterol level.1 New York Times columnist David Brooks has written that joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.2

In effect, modern science is rediscovering ancient spiritual wisdom. Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi who taught and preached in this country in the first half of the last century, put it this way:

“There is one Link, one Life eternal, which unites everything in the universe—animate and inanimate—one wave of Life flowing through everything.”

This fundamental spiritual truth can be traced back through time. Luther Standing Bear, a Sioux chief in the late 1800s, said it like this:

“From Wankan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed in and through all things—the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals—and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.”

Kabir, a Sufi poet who wrote in the 15th century, used these words:

“In your veins, and in mine, there is only one blood, the same life that animates us all! Since one unique mother earth begat us all, where did we learn to divide ourselves?”

Jesus, of course, said simply,

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And from the Buddha:

“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.”

Now fast forward. The American legal system was a wonderfully creative and brave response to the feudal, theocratic, and other dictatorial authorities that had subjugated the individual for thousands of years. The concept of individual rights, and the legal structures needed to protect them, liberated the individual and promoted unprecedented personal freedom and prosperity.


Let’s acknowledge, however, that embedded within that legal system is a view of the individual very different from the one science and spirituality describe: We are at least competitors and often enemies of each other, we pose danger to each other, and we must be protected from each other. Peter Gabel, editor-at-large of Tikkun Magazine and a founder of PISLAP who has written extensively about this topic, calls the individual in our legal system a “disconnected monad,” an atom floating around in space alone. The law protects the monads but does not connect them.

A quick review of some of the principal areas of law demonstrates the law’s worldview. The law of torts is based on a duty of care, but that really does not mean people are expected to care for each other. Coming upon seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson being raped and eventually killed in a Nevada casino restroom, a man can legally turn around and walk away.3

The entire economy that sustains us all is constructed from contract and corporation law. Yet contract and corporation law emphasize the self-interested gains of bargains and investments while attending very little to the well-being of the wider community or the accomplishment of shared social purposes.

The law of property keeps outsiders out, but does not require any stewardship of that unique piece of the Earth for the common welfare or for future generations.

Criminal law holds an individual responsible and imposes consequences. That focused application of blame absolves everyone else from responsibility for the social conditions that predictably generate crime. Except in the very rare cases of actual legal insanity, the growing evidence of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on adult health and behavior and the fact that a majority of inmates in state and local facilities have mental health problems make little difference to criminal liability.

Even the Constitution itself recognizes monads rather than interconnected humans. Nowhere in the Constitution is there anything resembling John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Instead, the Constitution establishes carefully limited government powers. It makes clear what the government cannot do to the individual, but says nothing about any obligations that we have toward each other.

The American political system deviates even further from the spiritual model of human interrelatedness. Candidates in the political-party managed election system achieve a majority by mobilizing their base and enticing a relatively small percentage of swing voters. They have found that voters respond most to messages of fear and animosity toward “outsider” groups and the core voters of the other party. They hammer on differences rather than connections. Tax-and-spend liberals. Red-meat conservatives. A flood of illegal immigrants. The 1 percent.There is little incentive or effort to affirm our common humanity. The result is near-hatred for each other by large numbers of opposing voters stoked every few years by the most clever messages money can buy—not to mention some bizarre electoral victories.

The legislative system produced by these kinds of campaigns amplifies disconnection and dissension. Candidates elected by voters hating the other party have a hard time joining together to promote our shared well-being. Their incentive is to repeal and replace much of the other party’s achievements as fast as possible. This produces scenarios as bizarre as a governor attempting to defund the Legislature. This is nothing new, of course. Minnesota’s latest constitutional crisis is the perfect bookend to the one in 1857 that produced the constitution, when opposing parties refused to meet together to work on a joint draft and former territorial governor Willis Gorman struck a blow with his cane to the head of conference committee member Thomas Wilson.


Where to start to try to achieve better integration of these disparate spheres? PISLAP has existed for about 20 years as a loose coalition of reform-minded lawyers and law teachers, and it has sponsored periodic conference calls, retreats, and small conferences. The growth of the integrative law movement has given the group new prominence. In Minneapolis, the PISLAP planning committee met to develop the content and format for a major national conference next year, to be held October 11-14, 2018 in Washington D.C.

With such a broad scope of inquiry before it, the committee chose four basic questions in promising areas. First, the burgeoning mindfulness movement has resulted in many lawyers adopting a variety of contemplative practices for better health and effectiveness. The question at the PISLAP meeting involved the next step—how do contemplative practices by lawyers promote justice and social change? One common answer is that meditation and related practices awaken the individual to deep connections with other people, leading naturally to professional actions that promote justice for everyone. Several PISLAP members teach contemplative practices, and the 2018 conference will likely include examples and instruction in the most effective practices for lawyers.

One of the best ways to reform a system is to introduce a new vision to the young people who will eventually manage it. Many law schools now offer classes in contemplative practices, therapeutic jurisprudence, and well-being as well as clinics promoting holistic representation of clients.

The second question at the PISLAP meeting was how to transform legal education to introduce the integration of spirituality, law, and politics into the teaching of traditional substantive law classes and clinical training. Some of the PISLAP teachers are doing this now. For example, a contracts professor described how, with every case developing a principle of contract law, he asks his students to describe the human story behind the contract dispute and evaluate how that ought to affect the result. A torts professor explores what it would mean for the “general duty of care” to be recast as a “duty of concern, compassion, and public care.” The 2018 conference is likely to include “live” law school classes taught from a perspective that acknowledges the spiritual dimension to every human interaction.

The third question before the PISLAP committee was how lawyers can transform their practices to enhance the spiritual dimension of their work. One common answer was holistic practice—responding to the client as a fellow human with strengths and weaknesses rather than a legal problem to be solved. For example, one PISLAP member manages a public interest criminal defense practice. Recognizing that legal problems are likely to be only the latest challenge for their clients, the firm assigns a social worker as well as a lawyer to each client. And recognizing that many more of their clients will be convicted than exonerated, the firm makes every client a client for life and sticks with them during imprisonment or another criminal sanction, helping the client maintain contact with family and re-enter the community following incarceration. For many years the firm operated a landscaping company to provide employment for clients leaving jail and prison.

Current plans for the 2018 conference call for role plays through the life cycle of actual cases employing a holistic perspective.

Even the design of physical space can enhance the spiritual dimension. The 2018 conference is likely to include a photo gallery of the many creative ways lawyers are using pictures, colors, furniture, plants, and water to bring a sense of peace, harmony, and openness to their offices. For example, at the offices of Collaborative Practice in Edina, the first thing clients see is a meditation room.

Restorative practices have become commonplace and respected in the criminal justice system. Thirty states now include restorative justice principles in the mission statements for their juvenile justice systems.

The fourth question for the PISLAP group was how this promising integration of spiritual principles with the criminal justice system can be expanded to the political system and lead to social transformations. Some of the most important work on this topic around the country appears to be in healing the wounds of slavery and racism. For example, truth proceedings, state pardons, memorialization activities, and institutional apologies in cold civil rights-era cases are being arranged by Northeastern University Law School’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Institute. A racial reconciliation initiative at Eastern Mennonite University brings together descendants of slaves and slave owners, as well as organizing other dialogues, apologies, and ceremonies. PISLAP members described their work to develop a national network of locally organized truth and reconciliation processes.

Another example of an expanded role for restorative practices comes from Minnesota. A facilitator employing Marshall Rosenberg’s compassionate communication principles led a group of 20 deeply divided stakeholders through a three-year process to resolve a decade-long legislative stalemate over a presumption of joint legal custody in divorce cases. The group jointly produced a package of family law reform bills that passed nearly unanimously in 2015 and was quickly signed by the governor.

The 2018 PISLAP conference will likely include “live” examples, or at least videos, of these kinds of policy-oriented restorative justice procedures, perhaps involving voters for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.


Although PISLAP has a website, www.spiritlawpolitics.org, the creative thinking of its many activist members has never been collected in one place. Until now. On June 26, Carolina Academic Press released Transforming Justice, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law, a book edited by Touro Law Professor Marjorie Silver. The book contains 13 chapters by PISLAP authors on how they are opening up a spiritual dimension in criminal and juvenile law, civil conflicts and dispute resolution, legal education, the court system, community lawyering, and environmental law. Particularly instructive are the authors’ personal stories about how they developed a spiritual perspective toward the law, often the result of personal challenges or struggles with the existing system. Suffice it to say that while the coherent vision presented by these lawyers may not fully integrate spirituality, law, and politics, the book is a roadmap of how activities underway right now are getting us headed in that direction.

One of the beauties of the American legal system has been its adaptability to meet the needs of a changing society. Human rights laws, social safety net legislation, environmental protections, and public defenders were unheard of 100 years ago. The new challenges involve enhancing human connections. These days, with the proliferation of smartphones and social media, it seems like our children and grandchildren are almost literally in each other’s heads most of the time. And how long could any one of us survive disconnected from the food, water, energy, and information grids?

In a society of unprecedented interdependence, where the frequency and complexity of human interactions increase with every technological advancement and step toward globalization, it may be that relying more on what the spiritual masters have been telling us for thousands of years about how to fully appreciate each other will be smart legal strategy. Watch for more from the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics on how that might be done.

BRUCE PETERSON is a Hennepin County judge who has worked in several problem-solving courts.  He is a member of the Planning Committee of the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics (PISLAP).

STU WEBB is the founder of Collaborative Law. He is a member of the Planning Committee of the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law, and Politics (PISLAP).


1 Lynne McTaggart, The Bond: Connecting Through the Space Between Us, (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2011) at 81.

2 David Brooks, “The Sandra Bullock Trade,” New York Times 3/30/2010 www.nytimes.com/

3 “7-year-old girl’s murder at Nevada casino still haunts 20 years later,” Las Vegas Review-Journal 5/19/2017 www.reviewjournal.com/crime/homicides/7-year-old-girls-murder-at-nevada-casino-still-haunts-20-years-later/

Sharing Stories and Reflections on Building and Sustaining a Beloved Community

In June of 2016 Drexel University hosted a PISLAP Conference on Beloved Community.  This creative gathering in Philadelphia represented a unique collaboration and a blending of efforts on behalf of the national PISLAP Community and local lawyers and community activists.  The conference featured in part the work of Drexel Law’s Community Lawyering Clinic, which is housed at a university-sponsored space in West Philadelphia called the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.  A write-up of the conference can be found here: http://drexel.edu/law/news/articles/overview/2016/June/BelovedCommunityConference-06072016/


PISLAP responded with a call that offered an opportunity to reflect back on the conference and to hear some of the developments that have taken place connected to the work of Drexel’s Community Lawyering Clinic since that time.  It also provided participants with an opportunity to share their own stories and reflections on the opportunities and challenges of trying to engage deeply in community-building, social justice-oriented work that is truly creative and collaborative.

Book Review: Transforming Justice, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law

By Elaine Quinn


If I had an understanding before that law needs to change and that that change is already happening, this book has helped that understanding become a conviction. The book reinforces the message that our society is undergoing a shift in consciousness from an experiential sense of innate separateness to one of innate togetherness, that scientific evidence is available to prove the validity of this shift, and that our cultural institutions – law being one of the most essential – need to join with and support this shift rather than resist and hold it back. One of the core messages in the book echoes that of 'The Ecology of Law - Toward a Legal System in Tune with Nature and Community' (reviewed in the January edition). That is that legal thought needs to catch up with scientific thought in accepting, and integrating within its fabric, our fundamental interconnectedness.
This book is an anthology of fourteen chapters from law professors, lawyers, a judge and many others working within law all focusing on this new legal paradigm they are witnessing and promulgating within their own spheres of practice whether that be within criminal justice, civil justice, community law, the courts, legal education or our relationship with our environments and the earth. Professor Marjorie Silver, Touro Law Center, Long Island, New York is the editor responsible for having carefully brought the book together over the past several years. You can read a longer 'heart-to-heart' piece with Professor Silver in Section Three.

"We hope to transform law into the building of a binding
culture in public spaces
—­in public rooms like courthouses
and courtrooms and in written discourses like law books
and  legislation
—­that fosters empathy, compassion and
human understanding, and a force of healing and mutual
recognition, rather than the mere parceling  out of rights
among solitary and adversarial individuals." 
Peter Gabel, PISLAP co-founder, pg 38)

A unifying theme of the book is that most of its contributors are members of 'The Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics (PISLAP)', a law network based in the US seeking to develop a new spiritually-informed approach to law and social change. Its origins can be traced back twenty years to 1996 and a 'Politics of Meaning' conference in Washington, D.C. Fifty or so people at that conference came together to form a law task force to seek to bring a new spiritually-informed vision of social and legal activism into existence.
It is important to state at this point that while the almost predominant focus of the book is on the US legal system, US legal culture and US legal education its core themes are undoubtedly applicable to Western, if not global, legal frameworks. This is not a book about the content of black-letter law. It is a book about how our core assumptions of reality influence the way our legal and justice systems are set up and how those core assumptions are radically changing. 

"It took years for me to wake up to the reality that our
traditional system of justice is deeply flawed." 

(Sylvia Clute, President of the Alliance for Unitive Justice pg 135)

The book provides a good understanding of the problems within law from a number of perspectives. As a starting point, both Parts I and VI touch on how our legal system today has emerged as a natural evolution from feudal, theocratic and dictatorial times to valiantly champion the rights of the individual against the group or authoritarian leader. Through this legal system we have established unprecedented rights for the individual which we all enjoy today. At this point in our evolution however, the law's strong adherence to the rights of individuals and simultaneous blindness to the reality of connection, community and relationship is no longer working. Examples of how the law disproportionately upholds this notion of the importance of the individual over the community are spread throughout the book - property law is concerned with individual ownership of land to the exclusion of others; contract law is concerned with agreements between isolated persons acting out of their own self-interest; criminal law is concerned with holding individuals accountable for their crimes in an isolated way with little or no reference to the context or the community from which they emerged.
So, what is preoccupation with interconnectedness? It is not, as some particularly within law may suspect, a "hippie-dippie", "peace and love", new-agey preoccupation. The book itself is evidence of that, its contributors being highly educated, highly accomplished and well-regarded members of their respective legal communities with well developed and researched theses on their subjects. This fundamental interconnectedness is a truth of our reality that spiritual traditions have taught for centuries but which scientific evidence, particularly quantum physics, is now confirming. As Sylvia Clute points out in Part II our dualistic worldview "teaches us that separation is real, that we must fear the other and control our enemies" and a holistic worldview teaches us that interconnectedness is real, "what we do to others we do to ourselves and that no one is safe until we all are safe". If we are honest and feel deeply we can sense that the latter view is the truth.
What really sets the members of PISLAP and contributors to this book apart within law is their courage and willingness to name this as a spiritual crisis within law. The word 'spirituality' is demystified as meaning, at its simplest, our humanity and profound interconnectedness. At the very outset in a section titled "What's Spirituality Got to Do With It?" Silver points out that the root of the word 'spiritual' comes from the Latin 'spirare' meaning “to breathe.” She says "Arguably, we breathe, we are human; therefore, we are spiritual, whether we believe ourselves to be so or not." Once we agree with this perspective the next challenge is to ground our experience and awareness of our connection with others through contemplative practice. Without this, the conditioning of old mindsets and structures are more challenging to overcome. Describing the importance of mindfulness and contemplative practice in transformation within law in Part VI, Rhonda Magee, Professor at the University of San Francisco puts it in these terms "the infusion of contemplative practices and approaches into the training and education of lawyers, professors, leaders, and community members—­into the training for a life well-­lived for all of us!—­may well be the mechanism by which broader systemic change happens". Silver, Magee and many others provide personal accounts of how contemplative practice is being introduced in various ways, and to growing success, in law schools in the US. Indeed, there is a valuable chapter from Victor Goode and Jeanne Anselmo of the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, who have been at the forefront of introducing mindfulness into legal education in the US. They describe the rich but challenging process they have been through to develop the law school's contemplative practice program since it first begun in 2001 and the experience of those involved in "how personal transformation informs and embraces a broader vision of social change".
In conclusion, this book is a powerful collection of inspired and inspiring writing from members of the legal community (mostly in the US with one contribution on Earth Law from Femke Widjekop in Holland) that are immersed in this new holistic worldview and that are courageously carrying it forward in law. As touched on, the book is usefully organized into eight parts each dealing with a different aspect of law where the authors describe how this new vision might work drawing on their own experience. Those who wish to can focus on one particular area of interest. Others will appreciate the whole book because it offers a wide perspective for transformation across the legal and justice framework.

Transforming Justice, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law is available from Carolina Academic Press  and can be ordered at http://www.cap-press.com/books/isbn/9781611635980. Also available in e-book format.


By Perry Saidman

In December, Washington DC’s Office of State Secretary of Education  (OSSE) released its annual “State of Discipline Report”.  It contained data to show how suspension rates and other forms of exclusionary discipline are on the decline across DC schools. 

A Washington Post article reported that “suspensions and expulsions in D.C. schools decrease, but racial disparities persist”.   In school year 2015-16, 12,665 suspensions were issued; 7,324 students were suspended; and 99 students were expelled (96 from charter schools).  Compare this to school year 2011-12 when there were 18,720 suspensions, 10,000 students suspended, and 229 expulsions.   

OSSE data also shows the persistent problem of disproportionate impact: young black men and women are suspended at a rate 5.8 and 9.1 times greater than their non-black counterparts, respectively.  Given as reasons for disciplinary action, "disrespect, insubordination, or disruption" was given for 2,460 of last year's suspensions.

Tarek Maassanari, a leader of Restorative DC, reports as follows:
From what we know about the way implicit, and internalized, bias works around racial and cultural differences, this may one of the underlying ways that the school discipline systems fails to treat our students equitably (for a compelling personal exploration of implicit bias, try out Harvard University's Implicit Association Test).  We can also see that academic performance is closely correlated to a student's zip code and family income, both subject to enormous and ongoing racial divides from this country's past to the present.

As an approach that can generate compassion and awareness around racial and cultural biases, Restorative Justice practices can clearly reduce racial disparities in discipline. However, I believe these are unlikely to disappear without addressing the structural linkages to the racialized imbalance of economic and political power.  

It is in these shaky, yet fertile times, where I also hope for Restorative Justice - in the form of constructive, enlightening conversations of the heart - to move the country towards a society that works for everyone.

Spreading the PISLAP Vision Through Art

 By Kim Vanderheiden
I am a visual artist. I combine painting, drawing, and printmaking media and generally work on paper. Two and a half years ago, I was thinking of an upcoming exhibit I was planning at the Alameda County Law Library. I had a number of ideas, and had been debating for some weeks which direction to go, when a certain sentence that came to mind struck me rather strongly, “The Law is Love.” By that I understood that our legal approach had to be based in love, not punishment or fear, in order to have a system capable of achieving something that could truly be called Justice.
To use this thought as the core for my work seemed to me at the time too religious, idealistic, and naïve to be taken seriously by others. Furthermore, I had no background in law and no experience I could point to that would make me qualified to make this assertion –except perhaps for two things: I’m a mother, and I’m a citizen. At the time, however, I didn’t consider these two things to be of value to this argument.
Shortly after, I happened upon a book by Peter Gabel, “Another Way of Seeing,” and knew from the first paragraph that this concerned the earlier statement, which I had rejected. Peter’s writing showed me that someone with a scholarly background in law can talk in great depth about the intersection of spirituality, law and love. After meeting with Peter and taking more notes, I began an exploration of restorative justice, which further satisfied a concern I had for there to be a viable structure that can use love to address the painful and real daily situations that require intervention and an appeal to justice.
All right, I thought. Maybe I could do this.
I continued research and began working out sketches and concepts, and also wrote and rewrote and rewrote my concepts to clarify my thoughts about our present system and the evolution of Justice.  
One thing I’ve felt from the early stages of this work was that a wide cultural shift in how the average person thinks about justice is needed. I suspect that right now, for all its problems, we do have the justice system that matches the average vision of  “justice” held by the body of our citizenry. All of the activism, the Black Lives Matter movement, the diligent work of those lawyers, judges, counselors, and teachers who have been advancing in a new direction are each having their effect. Indeed throughout history the understanding of justice has continually developed and broadened. However, it is easy to go on social media today and read the commentary of those who are so full of anger, condemnation, and vindictiveness that I wonder, what could anyone, anywhere, using any tool or method, possibly do or say to shift this person’s thinking? 
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do think it’s terribly important to hold up a vision. There are protests, which say “No,” and attempt to stop people from going an undesirable way. I think protest movements have been most effective when coupled with a “Yes.” A well-painted vision can lend strength to supporters, invite and welcome new followers, persuade the doubtful, and assist in the labor of forming a critical mass for change. Visions can be painted with anything, speeches, articles, posters, visual art, dance, plays, movies, songs, tweets, posted comments, and memes can all contribute to a collective vision.
To say the system needs to become love-based is to call for a restructuring of the very foundation, which presently is fear. Not only are teachers, lawyers, and administrators needed to make this possible, but also and especially the citizens.
Pando, which is Latin for “I spread,” is the name of an aspen grove in Utah that contains approximately 47,000 tree trunks from a single root system. It’s considered by scientists to be the largest single living organism. How would we change our formal justice system if we looked at ourselves as similarly, intrinsically bound together?
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona, requiring that suspects in police custody be alerted to their 5th Amendment rights before interrogation. Subsequently, Nevada County District Attorney and renown letterpress printer, Harold Berliner and Deputy Attorney General Doris Maier, were called upon to write concise language that officers should use to comply with the Court’s decision. The result was the now famous Miranda Warning. Berliner printed and sold many thousands of copies of this warning on wallet-sized cards.
“You Have the Right to Remain Human” is an attempt to reframe the concepts behind Miranda in a way that shepherds humanity, integrity, and relationship. This language has been letterpress printed onto wallet-sized cards, which are available to the public by contacting kim@paintedtonguepress.com. Please consider keeping one in your wallet. Please feel welcome to reprint the Right to Remain Human text. No permission is required.

“You have the right to remain human.
What you say can and will be heard by people who care about you.
You have the right to kindness, dignity, and connection to others.
If you have caused harm through criminal intention or negligence, 
you have the following obligations:
         to listen and make reparations to the extent that you’re able;
         to reveal your life openly to assist in preventing future harm;
         to commit yourself to a path that prevents repeat offense.
If you are not willing or able to meet your obligations,
your freedoms will be restricted to ensure public safety.
Do you understand these rights and obligations?
With these in mind, do you wish to speak openly
         about what happened and why?”


Elaine Quinn, Editor of the Conscious Lawyer, on PISLAP Spreading to the UK

On 18 January, Elaine Quinn, a UK-based lawyer that recently founded a new online magazine called 'The Conscious Lawyer', hosted a PISLAP call to speak about several different exciting legal initiatives happening in the UK that were featured in the magazine this year.

These initiatives are coming from the academy, from law practice and from social entrepreneurs but the obvious common thread, which the magazine wants to highlight, is that they are about transitioning to a legal system that is in service to a more beautiful world and have therefore much in common with PISLAP's vision and aims. 

Within the legal academy in the UK, Dr Emma Jones of the Open University in London, is carrying out much-needed work on law student wellbeing and the emotional competence of solicitors, as well as looking to establish the UK's first Centre for Therapeutic Jurisprudence. There has been exciting work, discussion and a conference in late 2016, on law's engagement with the sensorial (questioning the way law often acts as an anaesthetic "numbing the senses into common sense") from Professor Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos of Westminster University in London with several academics and practitioners in attendance to discuss a diverse range of topics on the subject. Dr Lucy Finchett Maddock of Sussex University in Brighton has developed an Art/Law Network where artists, activists, lawyers, practitioners and other agitators can share their work and ideas; create art projects on law and law projects on art. At an event last July, members of the Network gathered for an event around the idea and technique of 'cutting up the law' where legislation was cut up and reordered to highlight how law can be changed and the role of art and protest in doing this.

Within law practice, an exciting development took place in November last year with a first Legal Changemakers café in London led by Patrick Andrews of New Forest Advisory and Rhiannon Thomas of Milkwood Law (with another scheduled to take place on 19 February next). A group of about ten lawyers with diverse legal backgrounds from around London and beyond attended the cafe to talk about finding new ways to practise law that better serves themselves, their clients and the social good. US-based lawyer, and PISLAP member, J.Kim Wright is one of the founders of the initiative and it is hoped that it will become an international platform to unite lawyers who are bringing about positive change to the legal system.

Finally, Elaine was joined on the call by Mothiur Rahman of New Economy Law whose work has included the development of a community charters movement and the establishment of a new legal cooperative called New Economy Law helping clients that are passionate about bringing in an economy for a regenerative and ecological world. 

This is only some of the evidence of a growing movement within the UK towards a more conscious, human-centred and holistic approach to law which we hope is going to continue to grow stronger.

Restoring Compassion through Restorative Practices

By Haley Farrar
Victoria University of Wellington &

“Compassion” isn’t a word I’ve heard thrown around a lot lately. Except, perhaps, when combined with the word “fatigue.” Our current political and cultural climate is rife with fear and anger, and our reptilian brains cut straight to kneejerk flight or fight retributive responses when we’re in such a state.

How do we sustain our relationships to endure the strain that occurs? How do we strengthen our community to support the compassion that will get us through these dark times?

Simply encouraging each other to prioritize love and compassion isn’t going to cut it with today’s stresses. Entire communities are hurting, the weight of centuries of oppression taking tolls I can’t completely comprehend. Imploring harmed individuals to be compassionate at times seems unrealistic, or even wildly offensive in the denial of the experience of pain they’re enduring.

But of course, responding to harm with more harm does nothing to stop the cycles of violence and oppression that got us here.
I believe restorative justice can save us from ourselves.
Restorative justice – the process of bringing impacted individuals together in the wake of crime or conflict to seek to repair harm – is so much more than a meeting. Restorative approaches can be applied in spaces of conflict large and small, between and amongst individuals, communities, and entire nations.

Restorative approaches bring compassion, humanity, and community into spaces which have historically lacked both – courts and disciplinary processes – but also lend us tools to face the daily social destruction around us.

Restorative approaches teach us to repair harm first. They don’t instruct us to love blindly or to simply forgive. They ask the individual or institution that has caused the harm to take responsibility for repairing it. And the process to do so first starts with listening and sharing. It demands vulnerability of us to ask ourselves what led us to hurt others, what mistakes we’ve made, and what changes need to be made. Restorative approaches also honour the taking of responsibility. Ultimately, they seek to avoid stigmatization typically associated with offending behaviour and allow us all to grow and change.

So first, we must listen. Not rescue. Not fight. Listen.

We must create spaces to ask of our neighbours, “How have you been affected by the harm done? How have you seen others affected?”
We must sit with the discomfort, the expression of anger and pain, and allow it to occur safely and without censorship. And then we must find a way to move past it by asking, “What needs to happen to repair these harms and prevent it from happening again?”
In these dialogues, we can connect authentically and repair our fraying communities.

I, like many before me and many since, turned to law to enlist in the fight for social justice. I wanted to “speak for those whose voice is silent” (Proverbs 31:8). But my work in restorative justice has flipped my understanding of justice on its head. I was arrogant to assume I should be the one to speak for silenced individuals.

A restorative approach asks me to hand over the microphone, ask curious questions of the silenced, and listen closely to what they say. Listening through restorative approaches has shaped my life to look first at the harm experienced, not simply for the proof of the “Truth” or the persuasiveness of the argument. In a restorative approach, the goal is not to win. It’s to repair and restore relationships to rightness.

In restorative practices, we focus not only on the repair of harm, but on the building and maintenance of relationships. They call for respectful circle-based conversation to encourage equal voice and to break down power structures that so easily lead us astray. When we apply restorative approaches, our community strengthens by the day, enriched by the magnification of voices speaking on their own behalf. In each of these processes, we connect with our own humanity and create a space to see others’ authentic selves. 

Commencement Speech Living Your Passion, Loving Our Work

By Mika Dashman

Thank you for inviting me to your graduation ceremony. It means a lot to me to be here. I’ve actually been waiting 24 years for this opportunity. I missed my own PDS graduation because I was out of the country at the time. But that’s a story for another time.
I think what I’m supposed to do on this occasion is to give you some advice. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of practice giving unsolicited advice. So here goes:
Relationships should always be your top priority.
In 2012 I made a terrible mistake. I left my job working in the legal department of a large non-profit organization and I went to work at a small “boutique” law firm. When I left my job at the non-profit my coworkers presented me with a bouquet of flowers and a sappy but sweet card. Former clients dropped by to wish me well. People made it abundantly clear that they really appreciated me and would miss me.
On my first day at the firm I arrived at the agreed-upon time to find the office completely deserted. No one was there to greet me, no one had left a note with instructions, and neither my computer nor my phone had been set up. So I busied myself cleaning the schmutz off my keyboard and monitor (which the outgoing attorney had not bothered to do) and I waited. I will spare you the details of the rest of that fateful day, but the primary thing you need to know is that it was all downhill from there. It was the exact opposite of the warm, collegial environment I’d left behind.
The thing is, I had taken the job knowing full well that I didn’t particularly like or respect the person who hired me. But I thought that didn’t matter. I thought I could ignore or circumvent this small interpersonal inconvenience in the interest of furthering my career.  I’d do it for a couple of years, learn some skills, pad my resume and move on to greener pastures. That’s what I told myself. 
On the same date exactly one year later, my boss summoned me to his office and fired me. I had never been fired from a professional job before and although it didn’t exactly come as a surprise, it stung my pride and bruised my ego pretty badly. But I also immediately recognized it as an opportunity. By that time, I had an inkling of what I might like to do instead, but no idea how I could actually do it as a job. My liberation from the law firm seemed like an invitation from the universe to explore this subject that had recently captured my interest.
That subject was restorative justice. Restorative justice is a set of principles and practices that trace their roots to many indigenous cultures. Here in the U.S., restorative justice represents a new paradigm for justice; one that promotes meaningful accountability, healing and growth while preserving agency and dignity for all people impacted by crime or conflict.
It was a concept I had never heard of before reading a 2013 article in the New York Times—not in 3 years of law school, two mediation courses, or seven years of legal practice. But when I read that article, it made perfect sense to me and I realized restorative justice was what I had been looking for all along.
Restorative justice falls under the broader umbrella of “relational justice.” It recognizes that crime is fundamentally a breach of human relationships and that even when we’re in conflict or we cause one another harm, what we truly desire is to be in right relationship with one another. When I walked out of the firm for the last time I made a promise to myself:  never again will I make a decision based on the notion that there’s some goal that’s more important than my relationships with those around me. Of course, I never would have landed at the firm in the first place if I’d paid attention to my instinct, which brings me to my next piece of advice:
Follow your heart.
I went to law school because I wanted to engage in social justice work, not because I had any particular interest in becoming a lawyer. When I graduated, I still wasn’t sold on practicing law, but I passed the bar and I landed a job in legal services. I spent the next seven years litigating, but I was never fully at ease within the adversarial justice system—a system that often forbids direct contact between disputing parties and discourages people from taking responsibility for their actions and the resulting harm. It was clear to me that there were always important emotional needs—the need to be heard and acknowledged, the need for dignity and respect—that were rarely met throughout the life of a lawsuit. I was seeking a better way to address harm between people, and when I learned about restorative justice I knew I had found it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry I went to law school. I don’t have regrets because even bad decisions are learning opportunities. But I have noticed that the handful of times in my life I really wish I’d made a different choice, it’s been because I based a decision on some notion of what I should do, rather than what I actually wanted. On the other hand, when I have followed my heart it’s always landed me in a better place. The deep inner work that’s required to know your own heart and the courage to respect its wisdom brings me to my next piece of advice:
You must be willing to change yourself if you want to change the world.
When I first encountered restorative justice, I was shocked that I hadn’t come across it earlier. And when I began asking around I learned that it did exist in New York City, but only in a handful of relatively small programs and individual schools. And many of the restorative justice practitioners I met in the city at that time, didn’t seem to be familiar with each other’s work. The more I thought about what would be needed to move restorative justice from the margins to the mainstream in New York City, the more I felt that a combination of advocacy, community-organizing and strategic planning was called for. It seemed to me that restorative justice needed an advocate, and that its practitioners and supporters needed a networking hub. I was also pretty sure that this was the job for me. There was only one problem…I hated networking.
At that time in my career I avoided networking events, alumni receptions and cocktail parties, like the plague. I wouldn’t exactly have called myself shy, but I couldn’t bear the awkwardness of trying to make small talk with strangers. At the same time I recognized that if I wanted to have an impact, I was going to have to build community and social capital. If I wanted to raise the profile of restorative justice in New York City, I was going to have to talk about it a lot, to a lot of different people. And that meant I would need to face down my fears and go bravely forth into room after room full of strangers…cocktail glass in hand!
In 2015 I formed Restorative Justice Initiative, a citywide, multi-sector advocacy and organizing project seeking to bring the principles and practices of restorative justice to New York City’s neighborhoods, courts and schools. In my capacity as Founding Director of Restorative Justice Initiative, people sometimes reach out to me seeking a “restorative justice expert.” But I don’t believe in experts. I’m just someone who’s taken a lot of time to learn about a particular subject that interests me. And I’ve made it my business, literally, to know what’s happening with restorative justice in New York City. And this brings me to my final piece of advice:
Be humble and listen. 
My experience with formal education has been that the more of it I get, the more aware I become of how little I actually know and understand. We all know things and we all have a lot to learn—and that remains true throughout our lives. Needless to say, you and I are part of a privileged minority to have had access to an education like this. And I imagine many of you will spend the next 4-6 years or more in elite institutions of higher learning. But as you wrack up diplomas and academic accolades, you must never assume that you’re the smartest person in the room. Learning is one thing and wisdom is another, and they don’t always go hand-in-hand.
One of the teachings of the peacemaking circle—an indigenous restorative justice practice—is that the wisdom of the whole is always greater than that of any of its individual parts. When you create spaces that allow people to be their authentic selves, and for all voices to be heard, enormous good will and creativity can emerge. I believe that listening deeply to the stories of others—especially those with different lived experiences—can be transformative (both for the listener and the speaker). If you can listen to people who’s views are different than your own with open-hearted curiosity—rather than trying to argue, persuade or convince them that they’re wrong—you will be much more likely to change hearts and minds. If you’re lucky, you won’t always be surrounded by likeminded people so you’ll have plenty of opportunities.
I think the world would be a lot better off if people prioritized their connection with others; followed their hearts; recognized the symbiotic relationship between internal and external change; listened more and talked less. With that said, I will offer you my congratulations, wish you luck, and stop talking.

Making Law Zen

By Virginia Warren

People say that things don’t happen by accident, but in my case yoga did … literally, and it wasn’t pretty. There I was, pondering my lunch options whilst teetering about town in my favourite leopard print heels. Out of nowhere at the pedestrian crossing, “thud!” down I went before stunned onlookers, dignity and all. Just imagine it, in the middle of the crossing on my hands and knees wishing those stripes would open up and swallow me whole. Embarrassing! No more Zumba for me, my knees were in no condition to help me shake that “thang” anymore. So, off to the chiropractor I went. He dryly suggested I try yoga as therapy for both my bruised ego and knees, which in turn, was met with my audible eye rolls and inaudible mutters of “yeah, that’ll be like watching paint dry …” as I limped away.
That memorable event happened some years ago, and happily, my knees and ego are much better, thank-you. The point is, yoga surprised me. So much so, that in addition to my day job in law, I became registered as yoga teacher. Here I was, thinking yoga was all about sitting in lotus position chanting “ommm”, but remarkably, I found it to be much more than that. As I furthered my study into the traditional Indian and Himalayan philosophical systems dating back in excess of 2500 years, I discovered that there is far more to us humans than first meets the eye.
This revelation changed my life. It was my *ding!* moment. As I started examining my life more closely, I then wondered why a typical slice of my day job looks like this:
I brace myself for the fight. I explain my client’s position, putting best stilettoed foot forward, even throwing in some sound legal argument for good measure. And what do I get in return? Angry retorts, expletives, and attacks of a personal nature that I won’t repeat here, despite said attacks being against our practising rules. I then sit and ponder at the wisdom of such “meaningful” banter. These “conversations” can often be bitter, pointed and in my view soulless. I ask myself questions like: Do they have kids, like me? Did they have to think about what’s for dinner, just to get home to: “No, not risotto again!” How do I stay swimming with these sharks but not get eaten? Can I wear leopard print? So many important questions, so little time.
It became vibrantly apparent to me that the word “soulless” was the issue. Any wonder why depression and suicide is endemic among lawyers. I decided to review the extent of wellness-styled material on offer within our regulatory bodies and wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I found. Some sage advice was to “go meditate”. Prior to my yogic knowledge, if someone told me to “go meditate”, I would have looked at them with a vacant stare.
Further exploration into the metaphysical realm has helped me to see that there are often sound reasons for a person’s behaviour, which often has to do with their own personal journey. And, it all starts at soul level. With this in mind, I made an immediate effort to see the humanness in every situation I faced. And I began to look at my clients, and my opposition, as the beautiful souls they really are.
Invariably, my newly found realisation was not an easy topic to share with others. A bit “woo-woo” for some. I laughed out loud to myself as I imagined telling my colleagues to take a good dig around to check in and connect with their souls, let alone to convey this concept to their clients.
Family Law and Probate Law, are my main areas of practice, where, as in many areas of law, real human emotions are factors in resolving issues. One example of bringing soul to my legal table is, instead of hitting clients with the joke about the Dalai Lama and the hotdog vendor to introduce the concept of oneness, I ask a client to step into the shoes of the others involved. Here, they can seriously consider how the consequences of each decision they make, will affect all parties in the matter. I then invite them consider the on-flow effect of that decision. Helping them then understand that resolution is the path to least harm in any conflict, so all can move on with dignity intact, anticipating life’s next adventure. I encourage a client to immerse themselves in their favourite creative endeavour, not only as a distraction from the pain they face, but as food for the soul. There is printed material and a separate website that I offer to those in severe emotional pain, not as a substitute for medical advice where needed, but for some comforting reminders as to their inherent inner strength and value as human beings.
My contribution to the injection of soul into the legal profession is presently only in its infancy, but I remain of the view that the work really starts with us lawyers. As a profession, we need to discover and connect with our truest selves. We need to remove the ego’s need to win at all costs, so as to treat our clients not only as our source of income, but as opportunities for us, as creators, to make a real and positive difference to each individual’s life.
Perplexed at how I could share my perspective with the greatest number, I decided to write a book, which I aim to have published at the end of this year. A book that says “yes, you do have a soul”, with a humorous slant that I hope, will appeal to lawyers for the legal humour alone. It may just spark some interest and correspondingly, let some legal souls be free to bubble to the surface.

Virginia Warren spends her working hours as a Partner at Stidston Warren Lawyers in Mornington and is grateful to enjoy the stunning Mornington Peninsula as both her home and backdrop to her workplace. She is a qualified Yoga Teacher, registered with Yoga Australia and volunteers to give the experience of yoga to those who need it most. In her spare time, she writes a blog about her take on this game we call life. Learn more at the zenlawyer.com.au.

Traveling Well: How Community-Based Diversions Can Radically Change our Criminal Justice System, Saving Hundreds of Hours, Thousands of Lives, and Millions of Dollars.

By Peter Borenstein

In 2007, I was an outdoor educator leading wilderness trips for teenagers in New York and Maine. We often led trips many miles away from an access road. As such, if one of our participants did drugs or got into a fight, we were not able to simply kick them off the expedition; there was nowhere for them to go. Instead, we were trained to use restorative techniques to transform conflict, build community, and continue to travel well. This approach was much more effective than just throwing these kids away; it allowed us to treat conflict and rule breaking as a teachable moment. Indeed, we found our participants remembered those experiences with conflict as some of the best times they had on the trip. Fast forward to 2014: I've just graduated from law school and been hired as a consultant by the Los Angeles City Attorney to design a new diversion program for low-level adult offenders.
Some context: The City Attorney prosecutes adults who commit misdemeanors in Los Angeles and files more than 200,000 criminal charges a year. Needless to say, the sheer volume of crimes to prosecute is overwhelming, even when 95% of defendants plead guilty. Meanwhile, defendants face hundreds of dollars in court fines and fees when they are dragged into court to be held accountable for stealing ice cream or defacing property. The process itself is expensive and time-consuming for the government; it costs more than $1,500 per defendant to be arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court. Tragically, despite all these costs, prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys do not explore why the crime was committed in the first place, losing a valuable opportunity to learn the root causes of crime and ensure that it’s never committed again. Instead, the exact opposite happens: Each contact with the justice system makes it more likely that the defendant will go on to reoffend.
Recognizing this, the City Attorney wanted to create an alternative for low-level adult offenders that saved their time and money and, hopefully, would be more effective than the traditional criminal process for stealing socks or urinating on the street. They hired me because of my experience with Restorative Justice and I immediately set to work understanding how case files get passed around and who makes the decision to actually move forward with a criminal prosecution. I learned that every step taken through the system -- from crime to arrest to charge -- exponentially increases the system’s cost and ineffectiveness.
Luckily, I was working in an office that was searching for alternatives and so was given free rein to develop a program that would maximize outcomes and efficiencies. Thus, the Neighborhood Justice Program (NJP) was born. It allows case managers working within the City Attorney's office to identify first-time, low-level, adult offenders and prevent them from being charged with a crime. Instead, case managers schedule willing offenders (now participants in the program) for a meeting with trained community volunteers who live in the area where the crime was committed.
During the meeting, an amazing exchange occurs; the participant is allowed to actually talk about their crime, about why they did it, about their shame in committing it, about how embarrassing it was to be handcuffed or arrested in the parking lot in front of their children. Meanwhile, community members learn about someone who is struggling in their community, who may be dealing with personal, professional, economic, and family crises, and what happens when they come into contact with law enforcement for a minor crime. It’s also an opportunity to help the participant understand why it’s not okay to commit a crime, even a minor crime, and how it affects their neighbors and their community. Through this dialogue, the group creates a truly compassionate space to determine what the most equitable outcome is and to how to move forward in a positive way, how to travel well together. And all without the trappings of our wasteful criminal justice system: no judges, lawyers, court personnel, or police officers get involved.
Together, participant and community members determine what is an appropriate response to the crime, how to hold the participant accountable, and how to make sure she never commits another crime again. Together, as a group, they fashion "obligations" that the participant is responsible to complete, including anger management training, community service, A.A. meetings, or any other intervention that might be helpful to the participant and which the group thinks is appropriate. Afterward, the participant has two months to complete her obligations. If she is successful, she is never prosecuted; it's like the crime never happened. If she is unable to complete their obligations, then she is charged with a crime as normal.
Since 2014, NJP has diverted more than three thousand low-level adult offenders, for a combined savings of more than 4.5 million dollars for Los Angeles County. Recidivism (the rate at which participants commit crimes after participation in the program) is 3%, an outcome that is simply unheard of among similar diversion programs. It is the largest program of its kind in the country. And it works.
It works because it starts from a restorative idea: people should not be thrown away because they commit low-level crimes. Their lives should not be destroyed because of their wrongdoing, and low-level wrongdoing at that. Much like my participants in the wilderness, when people commit low-level crimes it presents a great opportunity for our community to determine the reasons for the wrongdoing and how to transform it into something that reinforces and strengthens our neighborhoods. Ignoring the root causes of crime and simply warehousing people (or forcing them into a modern debtor's prison) makes the problem worse for everyone.
And the earlier we intervene in someone's criminal justice journey, the better the outcomes are. NJP is a pre-charge diversion, which prevents the offender from ever stepping foot in court, being arraigned, getting a lawyer, talking to a judge, or paying fines and fees associated with the court system. From the outset, the heavy hammer of justice is not brought down upon them for stealing socks, and that's a good thing; we know that excessive and disproportionate punishment makes things much worse. A restorative, compassionate, equitable approach to low-level offenses improves outcomes for every stakeholder in our criminal justice. It is relatively easy to implement and extremely cost-effective; utilizing a network of committed and well-trained community volunteers, we can divert each offender to the NJP for $200.
Having built NJP from the ground up and seeing its benefits first-hand, I founded Restorative Justice Fund (RJFund) to help other jurisdictions develop their own pre-charge diversions. With other cities participating, we can divert hundreds of thousands of low-level offenders from the courts, ultimately saving untold money, time, and lives. We can’t afford to throw these people away; let’s use diversions like NJP to create teachable moments for offenders, neighbors, and the communities they live in, improving outcomes for everybody and, similar to my outdoor education days, making it more likely that we can continue to travel (and live) well together.


Publication of Peter Gabel's new book

Dear Fellow PISLAP folks,


I am delighted to announce the launch of our own Peter Gabel's new book The Desire for Mutual Recognition: Social Movements and the Dissolution of the False Self,published by Routledge Press last week. 


The book is a work of critical social theory that was described by our colleague Fania Davis in the following beautiful way:


"Karl Marx considered the class struggle the engine of human history.  In The Desire for Mutual Recognition, however, Peter Gabel boldly asserts the existence of a deeper underlying motive factor:  the dynamic of our human yearning, whether towards frustration or fulfillment, to co-create and inhabit a universe of authentic, loving connection and mutual recognition.  Human liberation requires us to intentionally embed social-spiritual strategies within socio-political movements to radically challenge social fear while generating powerful experiences of mutual recognition that support the evolution of humanity toward its full realization. To read this entrancing work is itself to gain entrance into a re-sacralized dimension, evocative of a new future."

To learn more about Peter's book, please consult the Routledge web page for it at:


There you will find early praise for the book by Cornel West, Duncan Kennedy, Michael Lerner and several others. And I also encourage you to read this excellent review on AlterNet by psychoanalyst Michael Bader: 


And please order the book on Amazon and write a review!

AND Peter will speaking to us about the book on our regular monthly PISLAP call for April 12th at 6pm eastern time.

Every good wish,