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September 01, 2017

Mindfulness 101: The Reemergence of Lawyers—Better, Smarter, More Efficient, More Mindful, and Healthier

Debi Galler

In order to best serve our clients, we lawyers have much to do. We have pleadings or contracts to prepare, clients to meet, checklists to check. We are often in perpetual motion, rushing to meet the needs of our clients. We check our to-do lists, we check them twice (and no, it is not to determine who has been naughty or nice). It can be an exhausting process. Add to that the blessing and the curse of digital technology, by which our clients and colleagues measure our response time in minutes, if not seconds. As a result, we lawyers might be placing ourselves on a treadmill that we do not know how to stop.

A study reported in the ABA Journal reveals that 28 percent of lawyers responding experienced depression, 19 percent experienced anxiety, 23 percent experienced stress, and 20.6 percent of lawyers (and judges) reported problematic alcohol use. The study supports earlier findings that alcohol use disorders and mental health problems are occurring in the legal profession at higher rates than among other professionals and the general population. What is surprising is that younger lawyers are being afflicted with substance abuse and mental health problems at greater levels than older lawyers. Historically, it has been the older lawyers who suffered with these afflictions in greater numbers. However, we can all get off the treadmill and become even better, smarter, more efficient, and healthier lawyers for ourselves and for our clients.

This is where mindfulness comes in. It can help us shift from constantly staying in “doing” mode and instead enter “being” mode through the application of attention and awareness. When we divorce our “doing” from our “being,” we are less integrated, less effective, and more burned out. We can stop waiting for a better moment when we realize that this moment, this one, right now, is the moment we were hoping to get to.

When we shift from “doing” mode to “being” mode, we are more apt to tune in to our body’s own early warning system for anger and fear (for example) by learning the feelings and sensations within our own body that are evoked when anger or fear arises. This in turn will allow us the opportunity to choose how we should respond, rather than reacting on impulse, which is often not productive and often can be damaging. Through mindfulness we can be more connected, more present, and as a result, we can become even better, smarter, more efficient, and healthier lawyers.

So, let’s try this exercise taken from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 1994 book, Wherever You Go, There You Are:

Try watching your reactions in situations that annoy you or make you angry. Notice how even speaking of something “making” you angry surrenders your power to others. Such occasions are good opportunities to experiment with mindfulness as a pot into which you can put all your feelings and just be with them, letting them slowly cook, reminding yourself that you don’t have to do anything with them right away, that they will become more cooked, more easily digested and understood by holding them in the pot of mindfulness.

Observe the ways in which your feelings are creations of your mind’s view of things, and that maybe this view is not complete. Can you allow this state of affairs to be okay and neither make yourself right nor wrong? Can you be patient enough and courageous enough to explore putting stronger and stronger emotions into the pot and just holding them and letting them cook, rather than projecting them outward and forcing the world to be as you want it to be now? Can you see how this practice might lead to knowing yourself in a new way, and freeing yourself from old, worn-out, limiting views?

Give it a try and see if you can shift from simply doing to being and become more connected in the here and now. And remember:

“Don’t blame circumstances when things aren’t going well. Circumstances are not the problem. The problem is perspective.”—Anonymous

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Debi Galler


Debi Galler is general counsel for Green Street Power Partners (the company is based in New York; she works in the Tallahassee, Florida, office). She has an extensive background in real estate, as well as transactional and corporate bankruptcy matters. She writes and teaches on mindfulness. She may be reached at [email protected].