April 2017

How mindfulness can improve your law practice

Mindfulness is seeping into the culture so much so that companies like Aetna and Nike, some branches of the military and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks now offer mindfulness courses and training to their employees. More than 20 law schools offer the same to their students.

What’s the appeal of this practice, particularly for lawyers?

“Mindfulness is a form of mental training that carries with it benefits in the areas of cognitive performance, emotional intelligence and health and well-being — areas of great importance to lawyers and to those who look to lawyers for their wise counsel, reflective demeanor and problem-solving expertise,” writes Scott L. Rogers, founder and director of the University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law program.

Rogers gave a program at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Miami called “The Mindful Practice of Law.” He’s written extensively on the practice, from which this piece was written.

Mindfulness is a training of the mind, and allowing everything — thoughts, feelings, body sensations and all — to be as it is.  “The practice is to recognize what is arising and bring attention back to the original object of attention — be it the legal case you are reading, the person you are listening to or the breath,” Rogers writes.

Practicing mindfulness has been found to be help decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, to improve the functioning of the immune system and to ease chronic pain, help heal psoriasis and reduce cardiovascular disease and diabetes, he writes. In addition, mindfulness has been found to aid in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and addiction.

But here’s how lawyers are finding it beneficial:

“Today the practice of law is regarded by many as having re-entered a state of nature where rules are subverted, civility is lost and the bottom line has become the top priority,” Rogers writes. “Mindfulness, like the rule of law, serves as a vehicle for establishing a more enduring stability. In many ways, it is refreshing to see the legal profession — charged and equipped to serve society, resolve conflict and establish a more stable order — looking to mindfulness as a tool to help serve this noble end.”

Instead of backing away from unwanted and unpleasant events and people, he says, mindfulness allows you to learn to relate to these experiences from a place of calm, curiosity and insight, resulting from a deeper understanding of the nature of thinking, distraction and the power of intentional attention.

A 2010 Harvard University study reported that almost half the time most of us are not focused on what we are doing or supposed to be doing in the present moment.

So while the need is there, the benefits are clear and it is easy to learn, “practicing mindfulness is hard work!” Rogers writes.

He describes five stages many in the legal profession experience practicing mindfulness:

  • Ignorance.

  • Confusion. Too often, people think of mindfulness as sitting cross-legged on the floor, and chanting and relaxing, he writes, and adds that while mindfulness is a form of meditation, it is not about relaxing or clearing the mind.

  • Familiarity. Rogers writes that despite being simple to learn, many find the practice of mindfulness to be boring, unpleasant or unproductive (although at times calming), and stop practicing soon after starting. “A key insight is that as we develop the capacity to be less resistant to the unpleasant, unwanted and unexpected,” Rogers writes, “we tend to become less stressed, the activity of our busy minds settles and we feel more at ease.” He adds, “That’s why we don’t make sense of mindfulness – we practice mindfulness to come to our senses.”

  • Embrace. With practice, Rogers writes, the realization comes that “mindfulness helps us draw upon our natural skills, gifts and inner resources, to cut through to the truth of a matter and to see more clearly what truly matters.” Another benefit is realizing “you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”

  • Practice. Rogers quotes attorney Paul Singerman, who often says when he speaks to lawyers and law students about practicing mindfulness that if “you think you don’t have five minutes to spare to practice mindfulness, you need to practice for 10.”

Rogers offers this advice for those entering a practice of mindfulness: “Above all, be patient with yourself. The journey of 10 or 20 minutes begins with the first breath – perhaps this one, the one you are taking right now.”

The Mindful Practice of Law” was sponsored by the ABA Young Lawyers Division.

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