June 24, 2019 Feature

The Science of Mindfulness and the Practice of Law

Amishi P. Jha and Scott L. Rogers

The legal profession’s interest in mindfulness is largely rooted in the role it may play in enhancing performance and well-being. These overlapping concerns can become especially relevant at different stages in life and when confronted with challenging circumstances. So, too, carrying a heavy workload with tight deadlines and high-stakes consequences can lead to chronic stress that takes its toll. The promise of mindfulness is that one might cultivate a greater capacity to relate to the undesirable and unpleasant experiences that are inherent in life with less resistance and a greater openness, patience, and care. In the past several years, the spotlight has focused on the health and well-being of members of the legal profession. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being reported that too many lawyers face mental health and substance abuse disorders, finding that 17 percent of attorneys experienced some level of depression, 14 percent experienced severe anxiety, 23 percent had mild or moderate anxiety, and 6 percent reported serious suicidal thoughts in the past year (The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, lawyerwellbeing.net). Among the recommendations of the Task Force to respond to these concerns was mindfulness meditation, in part on the grounds that:

Research has found that mindfulness can reduce rumination, stress, depression, and anxiety. It also can enhance a host of competencies related to lawyer effectiveness, including increased focus and concentration, working memory, critical cognitive skills, reduced burnout, and ethical and rational decision-making.
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