The practice of law is an exciting and challenging domain of intellectual, emotional, and physical engagement. While the intellectual rigors of law practice are obvious, the emotional and physical aspects can be underestimated. High rates of anxiety, depression, eroded relationships, and substance abuse speak to the emotional toll that the practice of law can exact from highly competent and thoughtful lawyers, and exhaustion, poor health, and physical ailments speak to its physical costs. At the same time, the challenging and rapidly changing landscape of our global community, society, and the legal profession require that lawyers are not only intellectually, emotionally, and physically intact but also are able to thrive in the midst of high expectations, demanding hours, and a great deal of uncertainty.
Not surprisingly, law firms, legal organizations, the judiciary, and law schools are looking for ways of developing greater resilience among their members, both inoculating against the depleting effects of law practice and cultivating the skills and attributes that lead to superior performance and well-being. S. Rogers, What Do We Want: Mindfulness in Law, La. St. B.J. 268 (Dec. 2014); Rogers, S., Mindfulness in Law and the Importance of Practice, Fla. B.J. (Apr. 2016). Among the most notable avenues being explored is mindfulness, an age-old practice that modern science is revealing offers numerous cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits. A. Jha, Mindfulness Can Improve Your Attention and Health, Sci. Am. Mind (Mar., 2013).
Mindfulness in the Law
I have been sharing mindfulness with lawyers, judges, and law students for more than 20 years. Among the growing number of law firms embracing mindfulness, Berger Singerman LLP serves as a model for firms across the country, having offered mindfulness training sessions and programs to its team members, clients, and members of the legal community since 2013.
The following three-part practice exercise is one that I developed in collaboration with Berger Singerman’s executive leadership to be included in its Mindfulness and Performance Enhancement Program. The practice integrates mindfulness with its two close cousins, relaxation, and gratitude. As you’ll see, the exercise is easy to learn and can be practiced in as little as three minutes.
Relaxation, Mindfulness, and Gratitude Flow
The relaxation, mindfulness, and gratitude flow is designed to relax the body and steady the mind to more skillfully maintain focused attention and thereby experience less emotional reactivity. This allows for a more open and receptive stance to embrace a larger perspective and sense of connection. Research finds that each component stands on its own as a meaningful practice, with a growing interest in gratitude. Brought together, they offer a seamless exercise that, with a little practice, becomes second nature and can meaningfully reduce stress, transform the way you relate to the most challenging of people and circumstances, and enhance your overall well-being.
- Exhale fully as you bring your hands into lightly clenched fists.
- Inhale to the count of 4 as you open your hands and spread your fingers.
- Hold your breath to the count of 7 and stretch your fingers.
- Exhale fully to the count of 8 as you return your hands to lightly clenched fists.
- Close or lower your eyes and rest your hands on your lap or one in the other.
- Rest your attention on the breath (or to the sensations in and around your hands).
- Observe the sensations of breathing as air flows in and out of the body.
- When you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
- Bring to mind something (or someone) for which you feel a sense of gratitude.
- Rest your attention on the object of your gratitude as you breathe.
- Offer an expression of thanks in whatever way makes sense to you.