June 01, 2017

Mindfulness 101: Lawyers and Stress: The Need for Grounding

Melanie Bragg

GPSOLO MEETING IN SCOTTSDALE AND MINDFULNESS

In May 2017 GPSolo held its Joint Spring Meeting with Group Legal Services Association (GSLA) and Group and Prepaid Legal Services in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was honored to present two programs: One on “Cross-Marketing Your Publications and Your Practice” and one on “More Secrets of Conscious Lawyers.” In these sessions I had the opportunity to listen to the needs of our attendees. The audiences were eager to speak, and I appreciated their honesty. I was happy they shared with such vulnerability but dismayed at what they shared. The words “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” and “tired” came through loud and clear. One woman was ready to leave the practice to take a job that resulted in a 50 percent pay cut. The stresses of her practice combined with the pressures at home were just too much, and she needed a change. One man stood up and told the crowd that he had taken care of his family, his practice, and his clients for so long that there was never anything left for him. . . . It was clear he was near the breaking point—in need of refreshment.

I realized that, as solos and small firm lawyers, many of us do not have a place to vent or let off steam about what we go through each day in our practices. Every day we must be strong for our clients, strong in the courts, strong in our personal lives. It’s part of our DNA as lawyers.

 

But what happens when we have needs to be fulfilled? Are our client’s needs always to be placed above ours? Does everyone else really have to come first?

One lawyer who is a fabulous practitioner told me that she was tired of listening to everyone’s problems every day and having them not respect her time, not want to pay her, and not take her advice. She confessed that she was considering leaving the practice.

This could just be a recent bad experience that was making these lawyers want to leave the practice, but it is clearly something that is happening to even the best of us. And when you think of how many people don’t tell the truth about how underwater they are in the law, how the joy of practice has disappeared and been taken over by dread and a pervasive numbness that results in their just going through the motions each day, it makes you wonder if there is a better way.

Our profession often is geared for stress, fear, intimidation, and perseverance. The practice of mindfulness provides a place for us all to process and work with these feelings and use them for fuel rather than depletion.

When we remember the effort it took to get our degrees and the sacrifices we made to become lawyers—think of the money we spent on our education—and when we think about the sweet feeling we get when a client’s problem is satisfactorily solved, we remember why we became lawyers. The magic is still within our grasp.

 

Regular mindfulness practice will help tame that stress monster.

We want and need to be excited to get to the office each day and then excited to leave the office and go home. To find yourself in that state of mind is the sign of someone who is in the right place. To be happy and satisfied each day does not mean that you don’t have stress and deadlines weighing on you, it just means that you move through it all in a more effortless fashion, without the accompanying drama that goes along with stress. When you are mindful, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still have challenging situations and clients—you will, but you will handle them with a detachment that doesn’t let the problem at hand take over your entire mental status. It will just be another situation to move through with ease.

 

The Four Agreements: Don Miguel Ruiz

Michael W. Albee led the first mindfulness program on that Friday in Scottsdale. It was called “Prioritizing Mindfulness in Your Practice.” He had a wonderful yoga instructor, Nichole Ballantyne, with him who taught us yoga for the workplace and ways to incorporate mindful breathing and stretching into our daily lives. It was a great basic introduction to the practice of mindfulness for attorneys. I was happy to see so many people in the room, too.

One of his last slides was a quote from Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements. It was the second agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally. When I saw that slide, I remembered that I have all of Ruiz’s books at home and made the mental note to pull them out and read them upon my return. I acquired them back in the 1990s when they first came out and had not looked at them lately. Something now drew me to that agreement about not taking things personally. I thought, “Wow! If I could master this agreement, how different would my life be?” I am so grateful to Michael for that slide because it has opened the door to me to really meditate on the gems in the book. I highly recommend it. The way the principles are speaking to me now is totally different than when I first read Ruiz’s books—I am ready for the message now. And I am excited to pursue it deeper for more emotional freedom and happiness in my life.

With the practice of mindfulness, what works for one person may not work for everyone. It may be a timing issue. Mindfulness is an individual process that you develop in your own way and in your own timing.

 

Mindfulness as a Practical Skill in Law Schools

Professor Susan Wawrose of the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio is teaching a summer school class called “Sustaining Practices for the Legal Profession.” In her syllabus, she states: “This course provides an overview of the growing role of mindfulness meditation and other contemplative practices in the legal profession.” It is very exciting that mindfulness is now being taught as a practical skill in law schools! It is just the ground floor of this movement, but I am excited at what is to come. Kudos to Professor Wawrose for teaching law students these skills now to help them be better lawyers and to enjoy their practices more. It is exciting to think how the ABA might respond to this movement in a positive way and provide more programming and support in this area.

On June 5 I was a guest lecturer in Professor Wawrose’s class via Skype, and when I asked the students why they were taking the course, some of them replied honestly that it is one of the few courses they can take this summer. When I signed off, they were about to take a ten-minute break, but Professor Wawrose wrote me after the class and told me they never took their break. “The students cut me off and they engaged in a 45-minute discussion,” she wrote. “Overriding observation was that you were not a super quiet, super serious person, but that someone who engages in mindfulness can also be vivacious and talkative. In fact, the student who said, basically, ‘I’m only here for the credits’ said he has really been struggling with what mindfulness is and realizes that it’s ‘personal and different for everyone.’ I think he had a real revelation.”

I got the impression that the students thought that a person who is mindful must also be dull and monochrome. They may have thought I should be wearing a Nehru collar and no makeup. Professor Wawrose was happy that the students got to see a colorful and enthusiastic person who meditates and practices mindfulness. It is very uplifting to know that there is a movement afoot in our profession!

 

We need regular refreshment, replenishment, and rejuvenation.

The bottom line here, friends, is that people in our profession needs to be replenished, refreshed, and rejuvenated on a regular basis to withstand the amount of negative energy we absorb each day, and we need a place to move that energy, to offload it, so to speak, so that it does not get inside us or be something that we carry home. We want to leave work at the office and not wake up at 3:00 A.M. wondering if we signed the petition we just filed, or whether the client we just billed will pay us, or whether the judge will grant our motion, or. . . .

 

Grounding Meditation in upcoming Brown Bag Session, July 12.

Think about it—we sit and listen to people’s problems all day. We absorb their energy. On July 12 at noon Central Time I am leading the Brown Bag Session for GPSolo and will take you through a “Grounding Meditation” that you can do each day to offload the energy that has come into your life during the day in your practice. There will be a link to the meditation as well as the whole program, but you can download the meditation only and use it to help you learn the process of grounding that energy so it is not lodged inside you, where it can affect your health and your outlook on life and the practice.

A Grounding Meditation is simply the process of anchoring a metaphorical energy cord from inside your body down into the earth and then letting go of all the stresses and strains of your day, letting the earth absorb it and freeing it from being trapped inside your body. As you begin to practice some form of mindfulness every day, combined with exercise, good eating habits, and good sleep, you will find a renewed energy in your practice, have a peppier step, and have more range to deal with the variety of problems you faced each day—you know, like the computer glitch that takes three hour-long support phone calls to fix when you have a trial deadline to deal with, too. Sound familiar, anyone?

The other day my good friend and mentor, Jack Canfield, success coach and co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, posted a Zen proverb referenced by his meditation coach, Sukhraj S. Dhillon, and I want to share it with you—it is profound, but I promise you it’s true:

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.

If you want to be less busy, spend more time meditating. The “I don’t have time” excuse is just that, an excuse. We all have the same amount of time. This process has changed and is changing my life for the better, and there is nothing I want more for you than for you to be happy and healthy in the law and in your amazing life.

Summer is a great time to read up and relax and delve into this practice of mindfulness. Enjoy it, and I will check back with you in August! Namaste. Please let me know if you have any tips, sources, or experiences with mindfulness by writing to me at melanie@legalinsightinc.com.

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Melanie Bragg

 

Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller, HIPAA for the General Practitioner, chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, 2nd Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, 2nd Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line, as well as the upcoming book, Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul, to be published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Flagship Division. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Vice Chair of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice (GPSolo) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at melanie@legalinsightinc.com.