Chris Shin is a former lawyer, now writer, life coach and consultant in Vancouver, BC. She is also founder of Clear & Calm Compasshin Solutions. Through her own healing journey, she discovered her life's purpose and passion for sharing her many gifts to bring greater clarity, compassion and the inconvenience of truth to those around her. She loves to inspire, educate and empower others. She believes that with discerning awareness and commitment to self-mastery, profound inner and outer changes occur, shifting old, unhealthy, stagnant patterns and cycles effortlessly. She guides her clients to make informed and empowered choices that lead with the heart, and are aligned with the body, mind and spirit for greater clarity and freedom so that they can create from an authentic place of the heart.
LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. DID YOU ALWAYS IMAGINE YOURSELF GOING TO LAW SCHOOL?
No, not at all. I got into Stanford to do a Masters in International Relations. It was my dream to move to California. But then I got into law school, and I had this sinking feeling because I knew I really couldn't justify going to Stanford over pursuing a practical law degree in Canada. Doing a masters was going to deepen my undergraduate studies but maybe not give me a whole new set of skills. Law school would offer me just that.
It's funny because I didn't do very well on my LSATs. I got interviewed by the Law Faculty before I got accepted and they grilled me. I felt terrible leaving the interview! When the admissions staff called me sharing news of my acceptance, I asked if she had the right person. The secretary said to me, "they only make it hard for those they really believe in". And so I accepted. And law school was one of the best and hardest experiences I've had so far; the best building block both professionally and personally.
WHAT MAKES YOUR CAREER LAWFULLY UNCOMMON?
I did the professional legal career with the great benefits and steady pay checks, but ultimately I realized there was a creative side of me that was being completely stifled. I had to come alive, I felt like a part of my heart and soul was dying every day. Some people thrive on traditional law jobs, but I never did. I'm a free spirit, so I knew it wasn't working for me, even though I tried. I thought, what's my problem? Everybody loves this, they get promoted and have babies and go on maternity leave and come back, but this just doesn't feel right- it's not who I am. I listened to my inner voice and changed directions. It wasn't easy, I had to work through a lot of self-judgment and fears but ultimately, I knew it was the only way for me.
I founded "Clear & Calm Compasshin Solutions" a few years ago. It's a solution-based, life coaching business that, I believe, bridges the gap between being a lawyer and being a counsellor. When I was doing human rights law, a lot of clients would come in totally distraught. Of course, emotions are heightened in states of crisis. But as lawyers, we're not trained to counsel and nor would it be appropriate. We're not therapists. We have 30-50 cases and we don't have time to hold our clients' hand. As lawyers, we are trained to be desensitized. This is how we become good lawyers, but sometimes I think this goes too far. I felt frustrated with the system and myself for not being able to serve a greater purpose. And so my business was born from this tension and is about bringing humanity and compassion back into a person's life during stressful times of crises or conflicts or changes, and aims to support and guide creatively during those times. Clear & Calm Compasshin Solutions (which, by the way, my Korean name means 'clear and calm') aims to deal with the crises/issues before they escalate and then find co-creative solutions that work by going deeper to the root cause. That's what we're trained to do as lawyers: wade through large volumes of immaterial and identify the heart of the issue, and so I bring this strength to my clients.
I also provide other services such as business consulting, crisis/conflict management, and mediation to name a few. I even offer a special rate and package deals for students!
AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO DO LAW YOUR OWN WAY?
I have to say that I gave law my very best and genuinely gave law a chance. I worked in criminal law, human rights law, privacy law; I worked in a law firm, in private business, in non-for-profit and in the public sector- in a university and municipal government and health authority. I really explored the full spectrum of what law had to offer, but still, there was a part of me that didn't fit in these defined jobs and therefore I was left feeling unfulfilled, and my creativity begging to be awakened.
So I think it had been building for probably a long time. But it got to a point in my late 30s when I was starting to have health issues. That gave me pause to think, "what am I not listening to that's creating this disharmony in my body?", and that was it. It seems so simple looking back.
WHAT GOT YOUR JUICES FLOWING OR TICKLED YOUR FANCY WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?
Definitely the people!! I loved my classmates so much and still do. We had such an engaged dynamic fun group of people. Any event the school would have our class would be out in full, you can just look at any year book 1997-2001 and our class presence can be clearly seen. We had the highest turnout for a ten-year reunion in 2011 in all of McGill law school history, people travelled from all over the country and even the world! I know that some classes had a competitive spirit, but we had an amazing cohesive class full of heart and soul and this really helped me get through.
The other thing is that I really loved criminal law. For me, most of law school felt very abstract. The concepts are hard to connect to reality. But criminal law was different for me. These were people in a real justice system. Real people with tangible evidence, crime scenes, weapons, victims. I took all the criminal law courses and went into criminal defense law after I graduated. I then became part of the Air India defense team for one of the co-accused as the most junior call for that historical case. Years later, when I dug deeper into myself, I discovered a childhood trauma that had been buried deep deep down, that affected every aspect of my life. There was a home invasion in my childhood home in Korea and my dearly beloved uncle was murdered in the process (you can read about it here).
This also explained in large measure why I was so drawn to criminal law, on the defense side - to somehow make sense of my past.
WHAT MADE YOUR BLOOD BOIL OR MADE YOU SNOOZE WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL?
I remember feeling frustration about the grading system and how it seemed so arbitrary. The courses I thought I did really well in, I only did mediocre, and the courses I thought I didn't do well in were my strongest. The leap from undergrad assessments was flooring. 100% finals put a lot of pressure on students and it's no surprise that stress and anxiety were prevalent. This may have been why our class partied as hard as we did. I remember going to see a student counsellor and she said, "you know, we get more students from the law faculty than any other but no one at the law faculty talks about it and everyone is crumbling inside". I hope things have changed since then.
DO YOU STILL SEE LAW ALL AROUND YOU?
Yes, because the beauty about law is that it does have a relevance in every aspect of our lives. In my work, I can easily flag legal components and point clients in the right direction. At some point, we all get to a place where we're being tested and we have the option of taking legal action or not and that can be very powerful.
Having said that, law is also limited. As explained, my business aims to educate, guide and support clients as a first option, so that the conflict or crisis does not escalate. So it's meant to be preventative and pro-active and provide an alternative to legal solution. I often explain to my clients that resolution of issues is not just about 'letting go' or even a desired outcome, but must also include getting to the source of inner and outer conflicts - that's where the real work is. Otherwise, even with a great legal outcome, the pattern that gave rise to the problem or conflict in the first place is likely going to repeat itself and manifest in other aspects of life. So in this way, law is limited as it doesn't address these deeper issues that are usually rooted in emotional, psychological, social, spiritual aspects of oneself. So law can be a very powerful tool if used correctly, and also as a great shield to protect yourself and others, but I believe it must also include these other layers for true solutions to take root. I'm hoping lawyers can see this perspective and I hope to partner up with more lawyers in the future to really provide clients with full and complete resolution. That's powerful!
YOU ARE AT COFFEEHOUSE SPEAKING TO A FIRST-YEAR LAW STUDENT. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM? PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR ANSWER IN A TWEET.
I'm sorry I'm not so hip as I don't tweet! Though my personal story about my family's tragedy was tweeted this January by an actress on the tv show Glee! I would say:
"Always embrace and be true to yourself. This is an expression of self-love and it unleashes so much magic. Be creative. Have courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but creating despite the fear. And have fun! #loveyourselffirst"
Be true to yourself. There's so much pressure to follow the trend. We can get stuck in this trap but you have to really honour who you are and where you're at and what you want. I wasn't drawn at all to going the corporate law firm route, and those who did, it's a wonderful thing if it's what they wanted. I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who are in traditional legal careers but for me, working 12-14 hours a day, nope, no thank you! I knew my heart and soul were going to get snuffled if I went that route. It's really about finding your own fit. And be creative!
Lawyers wanting a career change say they don't know anything other than the demanding, often draining legal world but they haven't tapped into their full creative potential or fully explored other legal career opportunities. There is so much you can do with your legal skills! And there is certainly more than one way to live, to do things, to make a living. Lawyers are great critics. So be a food critic. Or a movie critic. Or a book critic. Lawyers are great writers. So go write books. Lawyers are analytical and can synthesize very well. So make a documentary! When I talk about "creative solutions", this is what I'm talking about. It's not just options A and B, it's options A through Z and "to infinity and beyond", to quote Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. Don't be afraid to reinvent yourself and find who you are truly, what you're passionate about and what brings you joy.
WHAT DOES THE DAY IN THE LIFE OF CHRIS LOOK LIKE?
I've created by design a simple life, a healthy and slower paced life on the west coast - what I call my zen glow life, this has always been my dream. This is a stark contrast to life in Old Montreal where I grew up and lived until after law school when I moved out west to Vancouver. Being balanced and in balance is so important to me and I'm a huge advocate of this balanced lifestyle. I worked hard to create this, and my business fits in well in this design of balance, creativity and simplicity.
So with this in mind, I typically like to wake up with the sun. I wake up naturally because alarms drive me crazy, except for those days when clients book me early - I have a client who books me at 7am and I also love starting my day this way. I'll go for a walk on the beach at Kits Beach where I live and grab a coffee. This is my grounding, meditative space. Then I'll check emails and correspond and do all the business stuff, work with scheduled clients by Skype. I like to talk to at least one enlightened person a day. It could be anyone, sometimes the local store owner or my family or a friend or Patrick- my boyfriend of 11 years in Hawaii and the love of my life - or a stranger I strike up a conversation with. Real connection is so important to me, connection to nature and connection to like-minded and like-hearted people. Lastly, I love to eat and cook healthy, nutritious seasonal food to nourish my body and soul.
And I make sure I spend time cuddling and playing with my foster kittens. I volunteer my home and time fostering and socializing orphaned kitties with Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue (you can read about it here). Animals are wonderful for bringing us back to the present moment, sharing unconditional love and helping us de-stress. And this is one way I can give back and pay forward.
IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE BLESSING AND CURSE OF AN EXTRA HOUR EVERY DAY TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Definitely I would sleep. This is SO important and so underrated! Sleep helps heal our brain functions, our bodies to regenerate, it is incredibly restorative in all ways and it feels so good to climb in and out of bed, a place of total refuge and comfort - it's my sanctuary!
ANY REGRETS? (YEAH, WE'RE INTROSPECTIVE LIKE THAT)
If I could talk to law school Chris, I would advise her to take better care of herself. When you're young, you bounce back so fast. I recently learned that one of our classmates was diagnosed with breast cancer and this is heartbreaking. And last December I had a terribly debilitating headache for a week and ended up in the emergency room with a life-threatening, spontaneous neurological issue. If left untreated, it could have resulted in a stroke. This was a huge wake up call for me because as an otherwise healthy, balanced person, I really shouldn't be worried about having a stroke at this stage in my life. I took 6 months to heal my body, and it did heal beautifully, our bodies are amazing that way, able to heal when we give it the rest and love it needs. It opened my eyes to appreciating every day that I'm alive and healthy and well. So I worry less about the little things because they go away when you're not living. Sounds trite, but it's so true!