Podcast

Diversity in Practice: Work and Well-being: Silencing our Saboteur and the Value of Mindfulness

MoFo Perspectives Podcast

01 Oct 2020

In this episode of Diversity in Practice, Natalie Kernisant, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, sits down with MoFo partner and Women’s Strategy Committee co-chair, Stacey Sprenkel and the founder of Krishtel Coaching, Rudhir Krishtel to discuss mental health and the importance of self-care and well-being in the legal profession. Rudhir, a trained yoga and mindfulness instructor, discusses how the practice of mindfulness impacted his journey from law firm partner to in house counsel to leadership consultant and provides helpful tips on how to silence our inner saboteur. Then Stacey opens up about the pressure women and diverse attorneys often feel to over-perform as young associates, how that pressure can lead to attrition, and how motherhood helped her find a greater sense of balance. She also discusses her involvement in the firm’s efforts to support women, working parents, and well-being more broadly.

Transcript

Speaker: Welcome to MoFo Perspectives, a podcast by Morrison & Foerster, where we share the perspectives of our clients, colleagues, subject matter experts, and lawyers.

Natalie Kernisant: Welcome to the Diversity in Practice podcast, a part of MoFo Perspectives. My name is Natalie Kernisant, and I am the director of Diversity and Inclusion for Morrison & Foerster. This podcast series is designed to provide a space to discuss a wide variety of issues related to diversity in the law and to introduce you to some of our talented, diverse attorneys, their areas of legal expertise, and the work that they, and their MoFo allies, do in furtherance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s our hope that by sharing D&I best practices wherever possible, we can help make the legal industry a more inclusive place for those who are, in the words of MoFo’s former chair, Bob Raven, just a little bit different. We have with us today, Rudhir Krishtel, a facilitator and coach from Krishtel Coaching, and our very own Stacey Sprenkel, a MoFo partner in the Litigation department of our San Francisco office. She’s also the co-chair of our Women’s Strategy Committee. Stacy, Rudhir, welcome to the podcast.

Stacey Sprenkel: Hey, Natalie. Thanks for having us.

Rudhir Krishtel: Thank you.

Natalie Kernisant: So Rudhir, let’s start with you. I know prior to becoming an executive and consultant, you practiced law for 15 years. In addition, not only are you a leadership coach, but you’re also a trained yoga and mindfulness meditation instructor. Today, you use all of that training and experience to help attorneys identify issues that hold them back from a fulfilling career. So, I’d love for you to tell us a little bit about your personal journey, including your career trajectory, and what brought you to the work that you do today.

Rudhir Krishtel: Yes, Natalie. Thank you. So, as you mentioned, I practiced law for 15 years. I started in D.C. I was a partner at Fish and Richardson, and I was in their office for 10 years. And after many years, and many hours, I decided it was time to make my transition to work in-house and reached out to Apple. They had a position open. And so for five years, I moved out to the Bay Area and was senior council at Apple. And after 15 years in the practice, I noticed a trend that, of course, stress results from the work that we do. It’s no secret. It’s high stakes, important clients. But there’s an interesting pattern that I noticed, which is that when we are stressed, it impacts how we treat our colleagues, how we treat yourself, and ultimately impacts the work product itself. Work causes stress, but then stress impacts the quality of the work.

Rudhir Krishtel: This was not a conversation that we were talking about in the workplace at the time. This was before the ABA wellbeing report, that when things are difficult in the workplace or difficult for ourselves, the legal workplace didn’t feel like a comfortable place to have that dialogue, necessarily. And it’s when I noticed this cycle that I decided to leave and to work on this specifically. I took a year off. I first trained as a mindfulness instructor for lawyers specifically. I trained as a yoga instructor and ultimately as an executive coach. I started my practice a year after I left and started taking on coaching clients and have since coached over a hundred attorneys, from associates to partners to managing partners at law firms, folks in the executive level and all the way up to the GC level in house. I also create workshops and create spaces for us in the legal workplace, in law firms and legal departments, to dialogue around what’s most difficult. I talk often about this intersection between how mindfulness can support us in the practice, how we can build resiliency, and ultimately, how the improvement of our wellbeing actually helps improve how we are in the practice.

Natalie Kernisant: Your career path is really very interesting, because to me, it brings to life what I think lies at the heart of diversity and inclusion work. A recognition that all people really do bring their full selves to work. And an inclusive environment recognizes that need and tries to support the individual where they are. The acceptance and support undoubtedly impacts the quality of the work each contributor makes, as well as the loyalty and engagement that an individual provides the organization. In fact, you said something very powerful that I think ought to be repeated over and over again when discussing talent management best practices. You said stress impacts the quality of the work. Here, we happen to be talking about all the things, right? All the stress, the deadlines, the time management, the high profile cases, just practicing law. When you add to that the stress of constantly being viewed as different or other and trying to minimize those differences every day, all day, we begin to understand more deeply why we, as an industry, are focusing more heavily on things like mental health, but also inclusion and equity and diversity.

Natalie Kernisant: So let’s shift gears. You and I met when we were looking for a guest speaker for our diversity summit. So our diversity summit is a bi-annual conference we host for all of our diverse associates. Unfortunately, due to shelter-in-place, those plans never really materialized, but we did end up engaging you as a facilitator for a few of our programs on imposter syndrome, and people found it really interesting. In fact, a lot of people were first introduced to the notion of imposter syndrome through that session. I think you described it in your session as a nagging voice that keeps telling you that your success is an accident and that it’s merely a matter of time before you’ll be exposed. Can you talk a little bit more about this negative narrative we all have playing on repeat in our heads?

Rudhir Krishtel: Yeah, Natalie. I have only one qualification on how you define imposter syndrome and that’s that these sentiments of inadequacy or self-doubt are ultimately incorrect and that that’s the nuance and what’s valuable here. It’s that feeling that we get when you might not feel like you deserve your achievements. You worry if people will figure you out, dismiss your success as luck or timing. Sometimes we think others overvalue our success. There are many of us that have a relationship with this experience, including Michelle Obama, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, Justice Sotomayor. There are many of us that have—many famous people, successful people—that have dialoged around these challenges. They manifest in part because we’re human, because of our humanity, these moments where we feel like a fraud, where we devalue our worth, where we undermine our experience. Part of it comes from the fact that we’re raised by humans.

Rudhir Krishtel: We have this human experience, and in our upbringing, we are often put in check by the people that raise us for better, for worse. There are these sentiments that get shared with us early on that are there to protect us. And we may internalize some of those. In the legal workplace, we are surrounded by critical-thinking people. The way that we evaluate our work is important and imperative. That critical-thinking mind when we are issue-spotting on the work has so much value. But when we view others with that lens, identifying what’s wrong about people, that can be challenging. And when we view ourselves with that lens, that becomes even more complex, we lend to this sentiment of imposter syndrome. Ultimately, for women and for people of color in the practice, there’s this additional factor that tends to show up, this feeling that we represent our social group.

Natalie Kernisant: Yes. I recently read that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez used the term in a podcast interview she had with the New Yorker. She was talking about her initial feelings after being sworn in and her struggle to acclimate to her new position. I know that imposter syndrome is especially prevalent industries whose management and leaders are predominantly white men. Now, you mentioned the idea that this is so sort of more salient for diverse folks and for women, but I’d love for you to expand on why you think marginalized communities, including women, tend to experience the phenomenon at a greater incident than their straight white male counterparts.

Rudhir Krishtel: Yeah. This is an interesting point at the intersection of wellbeing challenges that women and diverse attorneys face in the practice. You’re already in a position where you feel like you’re not part of the crowd. There is this sense of non-belonging. And then on top of that, there’s experiences with bias, with discrimination, combating and fighting negative stereotypes and underrepresentation. All of these contribute. There are people that are, in some ways, a victim to this broader systemic and societal issue that we place on women and attorneys of color and the bias that they receive and experience how they might be treated in the workplace, how they might be treated differently in the workplace, especially in a workplace full of white men. And so I think we wanted to appreciate that these issues come up more often and may create and add to the complexity of that workplace experience, and the more we dialogue around it, and the more we talk about this intersection between wellbeing and the experience of diverse attorneys, I think we will start to understand and improve that situation.

Natalie Kernisant: You and I, in preparation for the session you did at MoFo, talked about how costly imposter syndrome can be, not only to the individual attorney, but also in aggregate to the organizations as a whole in the form of loss of productivity, under performance, disengagement and attrition, and that’s just to name a few things. What are some techniques that attorneys, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity can use to detect and overcome imposter syndrome?

Rudhir Krishtel: Yeah, I mean, just thinking about it for a moment, could you imagine being in a meeting. Every time you show up on a phone call with opposing counsel or you show up in court and you have this feeling of, I got this. I’m going to handle this well because I’m prepared and I’m doing my best. That creates a sense of comfort. Instead, what we often experience in the practice is the feeling that comes when we are overexerted, when we are holding back, when we’re not taking a risk, there’s this self‑sabotage that takes place. That feeling has a different color to it. When you’re turning a memo in and you’re expecting red lines, or you’re submitting something to a client and you’re nervous about how that shows up. And I think when that sentiment shows up, it’s the moment to investigate and be curious. What is the worry?

Rudhir Krishtel: What is the mindset? What is that inner voice saying right now? Is it telling me I’m not ready? Is it telling me that I’m not smart enough? Is it saying that I don’t deserve this? It requires a self‑investigation, and this is where this work intersects with the mindfulness work that I do, which is our ability to, in part, our ability to pay attention to our mind, notice how it’s working, noticing the thoughts that come up. And if these thoughts are cutting against ourselves, it’s just a moment to be curious. What’s the root of this? What’s happening? What’s coming up? Is there even a truth to it? Or what’s the evidence that these challenges against myself are not true? Is there another way of thinking about myself in this moment? Could I think about what my strengths are or the work that I’ve done? Could I actually think about how prepared I am? Could I think about the reason why I do belong here? It’s because my client asked me for this information. There’s a lot of questions that we can ask ourselves. Our mind tends to create worry. It tends to want to protect us. And yet, we don’t always have to believe the first thoughts that come to our mind.

Natalie Kernisant: Absolutely. Being present, slowing down, and being more deliberate. It can really have a very powerful, positive impact in those moments. Speaking of self-care tools and mental health, the work that you and your organization do is very closely aligned to some of the focus that the firm has taken on these issues. And so I’d love to welcome Stacy into the conversation. Now, Stacy, you are a litigation partner in our San Francisco office and the co-chair of our women’s strategy committee. You’re also pretty integral in the work that the firm is doing around mental health and wellbeing. Before we turn to that, tell us a little bit more about yourself and the focus of your practice.

Stacey Sprenkel: Thanks, Natalie. Thanks so much. So I am a partner in San Francisco, as you noted. I actually head the firm’s global ethics and compliance practice. I feel fortunate to have what I think is one of the more interesting practices that you can have at a law firm. I’m sure I’m biased in that regard, but really what I do is help clients think proactively about the risks that their companies face and develop programs to make sure that employees understand how to conduct business in a way that adequately mitigates risk and that meet the company’s desires to operate from a compliant and ethical standpoint. And I also help companies conduct internal investigations, deal with government-facing investigations, and deal with compliance and anti-corruption focused diligence in global transactions. My practice is super interesting, but also really intense, quite crazy. And to the point that you noted earlier, Natalie, that during this particular time with shelter-in-place and with kids at home and school being done virtually, it’s even more chaotic than normal.

Natalie Kernisant: And despite all of that, you still manage to devote a great deal of energy and effort towards supporting MoFo women as the co-chair of the women’s strategy committee. Lucky for me that you do, because that is where I get the good fortune to work with you so closely. I must say it’s been a real pleasure. I really appreciate the focus and energy that you put into the women’s initiatives at the firm, particularly given that it’s in addition to all the other things that you do. So can you talk a little bit about the committee and your role there?

Stacey Sprenkel: Sure. And I’ll just say that I feel really fortunate to be at a firm where supporting women and making sure that women have a path to success is so highly valued, but I’ve only been in my role of co-chair since the beginning of this year. And as you can imagine, the time that I transitioned into that role was the same time that we were transitioning into this work-from-home environment. I’ve been really, really pleased and really impressed by how focused the firm and leadership are on making sure that women have opportunities, that they’re being adequately mentored and sponsored. That we are supporting women and really all working parents and all attorneys when it comes to the challenges that everybody’s facing in this current work-from-home environment. But right now, we’re focused very intensely on all of those things in light of the current situation. But even before this, we’ve been very focused on making sure that we continue to be a place where women are successful, and I’ve always been proud of the fact that our promotions to partner each year reflect that the level of support that we give to women, to working parents, is exceptionally high, in my view.

Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. I’m always impressed by the number of women in positions of leadership at the firm: 48% of the board, 42% of the partnership review committee, and 38% of the partner compensation committee are women, not to mention nearly 45% of the partner promotes this year were women, too. And you mentioned that. But further to the conversation that Rudhir and I were having about imposter syndrome, and in light of all the work that you do with respect to mental health and in support of women, I’d love to get your thought on imposter syndrome and whether that’s been something that you’ve had to contend with in your career.

Stacey Sprenkel: Yeah. So it’s interesting because my experience is maybe a little different. My—I come from a very middle class background. My parents were never kind of putting me in check; rather they were always—there was a lot of praise, which was great. Maybe it had its disadvantages as well, but you know, what happened for me is that when, as I was entering the working environment after getting my masters and my law degree, entering the working environment and realizing that other people’s perception of me was maybe different than my own. And I’ll give you some examples. So, and I don’t know how closely this ties into imposter syndrome, but this is sort of how I think about it for myself. Personally, when I first became a lawyer and I would tell people that I worked at Morrison & Forster, people would express a lot of surprise.

Stacey Sprenkel: They would say things to me like,’ wow, you don’t seem like a lawyer,’ or ‘you don’t look like a lawyer.’ And what that did, was it sort of, in a way, shook my confidence? Like, what is it about me? What is it that I’m doing that is making me not seem like a lawyer? Why are people surprised that I’m a lawyer? I have exceptional credentials. I have a lot of confidence in my intellectual capabilities. Why is this? And, just over time, a lot of experiences where, for example, the first time I was ever in court and granted, this was outside of the bay area, it was more in central California. I was the only woman in the courtroom and the judge called me, honey. And then I can recall other times where, even more recently, even since I’ve been a partner, where I walk into present to a board and I get the feeling that they’re looking for the older white man that’s going to walk in behind me and actually give the presentation.

Stacey Sprenkel: And so I think what it caused me to do is feel like I needed to work extra hard, constantly sort of question whether I was meeting expectations, whether there was some kind of reason why maybe people’s perception was that I didn’t seem like a typical lawyer, whatever that means. I object to that concept at the outside, but it was very impactful for me, particularly when I was a more junior lawyer. It felt like I had something I had to overcome in order to be successful and to kind of command the level of respect that I deserved. And frankly, I think that the way that I overcame that was just by being a complete perfectionist and working way too many hours and just making sure that there was absolutely nothing substantively that anyone could complain about with what I was doing, but definitely, it’s when you’re kind of feeling like you’re striving, striving, striving, and you’re never quite sure if you’re meeting expectations, that’s sort of how it came into play for me, particularly when I was a more junior attorney.

Rudhir Krishtel: Yeah. What comes up for me, Stacy, with respect to what you’re saying, is that those extra hours, that extra time, that perfectionism, which serves you, and as you may know, also can cut up against us at times, cuts away our resiliency, the amount of strength and energy that we have has its limits . As amazing and as incredible as you are in your practice, we know that at certain points, we hit up against our limits of our energy in the course of a day. That gets met even sooner when we’re spending extra time, spending extra energy, there’s approving of the self. And I think that’s one of the harms of bias in the workplace is that ultimately it ends up draining some of the most valuable folks in our workplace, our colleagues, ourselves, in this practice. And so it’s just interesting to see and note and have that feeling of, I spend more time on this stuff that I may have otherwise. Even though the work is good, I’m crossing my T’s and doting my I’s in ways that others may not be because I’m trying to make sure that this perception that people may have is actually absolutely untrue.

Rudhir Krishtel: And yet, that may cut away at the energy, at times. It may create a drain, at times, especially in a year like this, when it’s on top of everything else that’s happening.

Stacey Sprenkel: Well, I was just going to say, what’s really interesting about it is that I felt like I had really kind of overcome that personally for me until I had a child. And then what kind of happens is that you don’t—I don’t have the luxury, the ability to work 3000 hours a year. I don’t have the time or the bandwidth to kind of be as I don’t want to say engaged—because I still feel that I’m very engaged—but to work as hard as I was working before. And so it’s really been an interesting dynamic for me to get to a place where I feel very confident that I am doing a great job while having less time, if you will, and less ability to just work constantly. And then, of course, with the pandemic and the shelter-in-place, that’s become even more challenging. And I hear it from so many people, particularly those of us that measure our level of success by kind of how much we’re working, how perfect everything is around us, and the reality of the situation—

Stacey Sprenkel: Is that with children at home and all sorts of different limitations on our ability to work in the way that we’re used to working, most people aren’t in a position to achieve in the way that they were achieving before and thinking about how to redefine success and making sure that that isn’t weighing too heavily on our own personal wellbeing. So I think it’s been a really interesting journey for me, personally, to kind of wrap my head around what success means and what success looks like in a world where I can’t work as much as I, historically, was working, if that makes sense.

Natalie Kernisant: It makes total sense. And I think your conversation, Rudhir and Stacy, really highlights this notion of balance and the need for balance in a stressful profession like the practice of law. In fact, in recent years, these concepts have become increasingly important issues in our workplace environment. I think it was in 2017, the ABA house of delegates approved resolution 106, amending the ABA model rules for continuing legal education. And they modified it to include a requirement that lawyers receive at least one hour of mental health and substance abuse credit every three years. Now, I know that sounds small, but I think that it’s an indication that, as an industry, we’re starting to wake up to the real mental health challenges that are, at times, associated with being a lawyer, particularly at a big firm. So Stacy, I know you’re deeply engaged in the firm’s work around mental health and self-care. Can you speak to what the firm’s recent efforts around these topics have been?

Stacey Sprenkel: Well, we’ve been doing a lot in the space of late and it definitely predates the recent pandemic and events that have, I think, made things more challenging from a mental health perspective for many people. Basically we’ve been focused on getting people to think about eliminating stigma around mental health, around mental health issues, getting individuals to see mental health as a spectrum instead of either you’re mentally healthy or you have a specific diagnosed condition, and trying to make the firm a place where people are cognizant of their own mental health, the behavior that they’re modeling for their teams, how to deal with teams and individuals that may be having challenges that relate to mental health, and kind of creating a space where there’s resources, where there’s an open dialogue, where we have been doing a lot of great training for managers, both in like staff and administration, and also on the attorney side on how to deal with teams and create mentally healthy teams.

Stacey Sprenkel: So it’s been a big area of focus for us. And I think, because we recognize, and our leadership recognizes, that this is long overdue in when it comes to law firms. And there’s no reason really why a law firm—yes, we have particular challenges. It’s a demanding environment. It’s client service, you know, all of those things. We report deadlines. Those things are all true, but that doesn’t—they’re not mutually exclusive with creating more mentally healthy atmosphere. So we’ve been very focused on it. We’ve been working with an organization, Mind Share Partners, which is great and have been helping us to deliver some of this training to our teams and to leadership and it’s been getting great reviews. So I’m quite pleased with how that’s going. I think the most important thing by far is that there’s been a dialogue that’s started as a result of all of this work that we’re doing, and people are reflecting on maybe some of their own practices—I know I am—and the way that they might impact teams. So I think it’s been extremely positive. I think it’s—we’re early on as the legal profession is in a journey, which I hope ultimately ends in a world where law firm is not seen as giving up balance and mental health and those things, which I think historically, maybe we’ve been seen as an industry that’s not necessarily compatible with wellness.

Natalie Kernisant: So you mentioned that the firm’s been engaged in this work for quite some time, even before the pandemic and the George Floyd incident and before realizing the impact that those particular situations were having on our people. I remember—it’s got to be at least a year or maybe even two years ago—attending a session that MoFo put on around mental health that was moderated by our chair, Larren Nashelsky. And this was before you joined the women’s strategy committee as chair, so I didn’t know you that well, but I do remember you and several other MoFo partners sat on the panel and discussed your personal stories around grappling with mental health issues and whether it was anxiety or just balancing work with self-care and mental health. It was really powerful to listen to. What I was struck by was how willing and open the partners at MoFo were to have these sort of personal conversations with members of the MoFo family. And so my question really is, what is it about MoFo, the community, or about the individuals on that panel or partners more generally, that would inspire you to have such a personal conversation with a large audience?

Stacey Sprenkel: For me, it’s sort of more reflective of my own kind of personal evolution with these issues. And I think it overlaps a lot with what I was talking about before with call it imposter syndrome, call it dealing with biased. For me, when I was a younger attorney, I was told by so many people that I needed to keep the challenges I was facing to myself. I needed to always appear to be perfect. So I struggled with various health issues as an associate. I really went through a divorce and really kept very quiet about those things. And over time, what I came to realize was I wasn’t doing myself any favors and I wasn’t doing the people around me any favors, because let’s be honest, we are all people. Think the vast majority of us face various struggles in our lives. And the more that we are able to be authentic about who we are and to let people know that you can face challenges and still be successful at this job.

Stacey Sprenkel: I think the more supportive we are of our teams, I think by creating an atmosphere where people feel like it’s not professional to talk about the challenges they’re facing with childcare and the challenges that they’re facing with health and just the things that are going on in their personal lives, I think it makes it all the more likely that certain people, whether it’s because of imposter syndrome or otherwise, are gonna take a look at themselves and say, you know what? This just isn’t the job for me. Like, this isn’t the career for me. And how sad is that after going through that many years of school? Of course, some people are going to come to that decision because it really isn’t the career for them. But to feel like they’re the only one that’s struggling with mental health issues, or they’re the only one that’s struggling with physical health issues, or they’re the only one that’s struggling to meet the demands of work with childcare.

Stacey Sprenkel: How sad when the reality is many, many of us are. And so for me, personally, I made a decision when I became a partner at the law firm that I was going to use that platform, if you will, to really figure out a way to be honest and authentic about who I am and the challenges that I faced and to hopefully create an environment around me where the people that I work with feel similarly comfortable. It just so happens that the firm is very much turning in that direction at the same time that I was very focused on that. So I will be honest with you, eight years ago, there’s absolutely no way I would’ve agreed talk about these things even in a room of my colleagues, let alone on a podcast. But I actually think that we’re better leaders and we’re better lawyers, and we’re just better people when we can be who we are when we can encourage other people to know that you can face challenges.

Stacey Sprenkel: And it doesn’t mean that you aren’t good at your job. It doesn’t mean that other people aren’t struggling similarly. And so I just think we’re a stronger community and stronger individually when we can be forthcoming about the challenges that we faced and really kind of support each other. And interestingly, the current situation, if there’s any silver lining with what’s been going on lately with the pandemic and with the issues around racial injustice is that I feel like people are now really are kind of being forced to be open about the situations that they face, the hardships they face. Sick parents and children running around, chaos in the background, challenges in our lives. And people are really turning to each other and asking real questions. You know, “how are you?” It’s not an ‘I’m fine’ response. It’s a ‘What’s going on in your life?’

Stacey Sprenkel: I actually care. I’m facing similar challenges. So if there’s a silver lining in what’s going on, I think that it’s really driving a lot of people, whether by choice or because they’re forced to, to just be authentically who they are because we’re in our homes, surrounded by our families and the challenges that we’re facing as we’re working. And so that’s a very long way of answering your question, Natalie. But for me, it’s been as much about personal commitments that I’ve made to myself about how I want to be as a partner in a law firm and the environment that I wanna create for my teams as it is being fortunate to be at MoFo where people truly do, I believe, care about each other and wanna create a culture that is supportive and mentally healthy.

Natalie Kernisant: Yeah, absolutely. Actually Rudhir, I’d love to get your thoughts on whether, in your experience, you’re finding that organizations are becoming more receptive to having open dialogue around things like mental health, wellbeing, and mindfulness. Are you finding a more welcoming space now? And to the extent that you aren’t, what’s the advice you might give someone on how to navigate environments that aren’t as open and transparent about these issues?

Rudhir Krishtel: Yeah, I—we are seeing more of it. We are seeing a more open dialogue on wellbeing in the last few years, and that’s very refreshing. And I think what we’re looking for, in part, is how we create these spaces where people are comfortable having these dialogues. I think there are law firms that are uncertain about how they can open up that space, which is why I end up getting engaged to create that room or that opportunity or that environment where people can experience that psychological safety, the ability to actually be open and vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a word that we use often in the legal practice, particularly the more senior we get. It’s not something that we necessarily see. And yet, what Stacy’s talking about, in part, is in fact just a leadership attribute. The more open Stacy and her colleagues were able to be in that panel that you described, the more comfort and safety they create for a lot of other attorneys in the practice that are experiencing those similar challenges.

Rudhir Krishtel: And I think the more that we model and the more spaces we create to have those difficult dialogues, we start to generate that greater sense of psychological safety that we look for and that we want in a workplace that allows us to be more productive. It allows us to have that sense of belonging, and it allows us to have a healthier relationship with our work and our colleagues. And so kudos to the firms that are creating those spaces. We seeing more and more of them. We’re also seeing firms that have a challenge with that. I get push back sometimes when I want to have an open dialogue, particularly this summer, as we want to have more open dialogue around race in the workplace. I think there’s a discomfort with hearing about what’s really happening for people. When we start to create healthy spaces and create some comfort around that discomfort, we’re going to see a very healthy evolution in our workplace, in the legal workplace, and in this practice.

Natalie Kernisant: Yeah. I love that you said we need to start getting comfort with having uncomfortable conversations. I think, across the board, the pandemic and the social climate that we’re in is forcing people to recognize that in this moment, we have to start addressing the realities that our colleagues are facing and try our best to support them through it.

Stacey Sprenkel: Yeah. Isn’t it also just about recognizing our shared humanity? I think that these have given us opportunities to really think about clients as more than clients or our outside council as more than just outside council, or our associates is more than somebody that’s getting our work done. Like we all know it to be the case that everybody’s got their own life and got their own struggles and it’s a lesson and it’s an opportunity, I think, to see each other as people first, and then those roles that we play perhaps second.

Natalie Kernisant: So in closing, I did want to ask more specifically, Ruhdir, about your work involving mindfulness. Can you talk a little bit about how we might use mindfulness to counteract stress associated with the more challenging aspects of our work?

Rudhir Krishtel: Yeah. For me, the generation of my mindfulness practice, learning how to meditate, was the most important skill, tool, and evolution in how I relate with stress. When I was at Apple, I remember when I remember leaving the firm, I would proudly say I was at 12, you know, when zero to 10, how stressed are you? And I almost wear 12 with a badge of honor. I’m 12. I’m beyond 10. And I was almost proud of it as a litigator. You’re proud of it in some weird way. And when I got to Apple naturally, because I got to sleep at night, which wasn’t necessarily a happening in a busy litigation practice, stress went down to maybe a seven out of 10, but through my mindfulness practice, it went down to a two  all the time. And it’s really remained that way since, somewhere between the zero and two, no matter how challenging it is to leave a job to start your own business, even while at Apple testifying witness at the company, it was at a two because of the way in which meditation allows us to get comfortable with—

Rudhir Krishtel:—what’s uncomfortable, exactly what you’re talking about when you are able to sit and breathe and just pay attention to what’s happening and not be focused on how to change it, but actually create a relationship with what really is. That is really the strength that meditation can provide us over time with practice. It’s not something necessarily that does not come in in one sitting, a single 10 minute meditation or a 20 minute meditation isn’t what we’re going for. It might feel good. We might want to take a nap afterwards. And yet, daily practice, committing the 10, 15, 20 minutes a day, over time, has a significant benefit, particularly in this time. When I think about our resiliency, I think often about just making sure that we have resources beyond what’s difficult. And typically, if you put your hands out and you sort of weigh what’s difficult on one hand and the resources you have on the other, and you sort of look at it on the left side, we have work causes difficulty, personal lives, health, family, all sorts of things.

Rudhir Krishtel: And you want to make sure that your right side is outweighing what’s on the left: your physical health, your diet, your community, how much you sleep, whether you get to take a vacation, and maybe even some mental, emotional, and spiritual practices. And so the thing on the right hand, we want to have it outweigh what’s on the left, but this year, interestingly enough, we have this whole layer of pandemic on top of economic crisis on top of racial reckoning, all related to, in part, associated with isolation. And so what we have on the left side is just completely weighing down. We have much more difficulty than we experienced last year. And if you think about what you used to create resources for yourself last year, some of that’s not even available. Your community you might not be spending time with. The boundaries between work and home, not as existent as they were before, the increased responsibility for some parents.

Rudhir Krishtel: All of these things tend to reduce the resources we had up against an increased load of difficulty. And so for me, it’s really just being self-reflective. What are my resources? How can I increase them this year? And our mental health practices and emotional health practices like mindfulness, something that I could incorporate just sitting here for or 10 minutes a day, and really maybe building up the resources. And so I find a lot of value in it, personally. Everyone I work with finds huge value in the commitment to that practice. And I can’t say enough about it.

Natalie Kernisant: Yes. So I must say I’m really happy to see the legal industry beginning to more fully embrace wellness practices to help us manage the chronic stress that attorneys often face in the legal industry. And I’ve got to say, I’m thrilled to see all of the good work Morrison & Foerster has done in this space recently through partnerships with folks like you, Rudhir, and thanks to leadership from partners like you, Stacy. So thank you both for joining me today on the podcast.

Speaker: Please make sure to subscribe to the MoFo Perspectives Podcast so you don’t miss an episode. If you have any questions about what you heard today, or like more information on this topic, please visit mofo.com/podcasts. Again, that’s M-O-F-O mofo.com/podcasts.

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