Why Lawyers Should Embrace, Not Ridicule, Mindfulness

mindfulnessThere seems to be a new war raging in the legal profession and it all centers around mindfulness.

“…a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

I find this war ridiculous but professional infighting is unfortunately nothing new.  And it stems from the idea that if you talk about anything else other than the client, anything lawyer-centric, somehow you are not client-centric and hardworking and are unworthy of your license. Practicing mindfulness and being client-centric are not mutually exclusive concepts, people.

If you talk about marketing or building your business, somehow you are magically less interested in advocating for your clients or you’re not putting them first.

If you talk about the latest technology, enjoy talking about apps for your tablet and blog about it, somehow you are no longer working hard for your clients and you are putting them second to new gadgets.

If you share or discuss your personal interests or entrepreneurial ventures cultivated on the side, somehow you are not particularly devoted to the law.

If you write a book, you’re not a powerful advocate for your clients or must just be dabbling in the law.

But the reason this mindfulness debate is more obnoxious is because there are so many false arguments posed by those who are against it.

Self-care is critical for all people.  It is particularly necessary for lawyers precisely because they work so hard, because they face so many challenges and because there is such a high level of depression and suicide. These levels of depression and suicide aren’t higher because there are so many more lawyers.  They aren’t higher because there are so many people going to law school ill-suited for the profession. These opinions, if even remotely relevant, only pertain to the past six or seven years.  Depression and suicide in the profession have been present for decades and woefully under-addressed because it has been taboo to discuss for fear of appearing a failure. After all, we’re supposed to be warriors moving forward full throttle at all times.

The argument suggesting that any discussion about a lawyer’s well-being is somehow only for those who can’t stand the heat is ridiculous.  Mindfulness is serious and scientifically supported (and is responsible for positive physical changes in the portion of the brain responsible for executive decision-making and working memory) and embraced by corporations such as Aetna, Keurig Green Mountain, Intel, Google, General Mills, sports franchises (watch the video) and others.  Are all of these people practicing mindfulness ill-suited for their professions?  Of course not.  They are in it to win!

However, what I have noticed is when mindfulness is discussed, lawyers respond by sharing their situations, their feelings about their role in society as a lawyer and their inability to handle some of the more stressful elements. This is what threatens other lawyers.  It is triggering conversation about the elements of the profession which lawyers are supposed to keep quiet and choke on, not share.  Instead, they are supposed to eat themselves to death or develop drug addictions or deliberately sabotage their marriages, gamble or any other self-destructive behavior and do so quietly.  Just don’t let people know you are hurting….because you are a lawyer and lawyers don’t let their vulnerabilities show or we make the profession look bad.

I don’t practice mindfulness but I respect the process, the focus, the ability to take a deep breath, mentally refocus, regroup and come back stronger and ready to resume the fight.  Why is there even judgment on this?  Does it threaten others?  Does it threaten the profession?  Of course not. How foolish to even suggest it does.

As lawyer, author and speaker, Jeena Cho states in a heated debate on Facebook:

“….mindfulness doesn’t mean being self-centered, being narcissistic, or gazing at your navel. Also, it doesn’t mean you play nice, hold hands or “woo woo.” It’s just a tool you can use to train your mind for better performance. You can be “mindful” and still be a jerk too.”

Some people take an afternoon fishing on a quiet lake. Others go jogging, scuba-diving, taking their motorcycle on windy roads or yoga (which at one time was ridiculed and now the fields of religion, psychology, physics, medicine, and neurobiology are among those exploring what yoga has to offer.)  The fact there can be techniques to use while we take a five minute break at the desk shouldn’t make it any less valuable or laughable or outside the realm of self-care. Relaxing, regrouping, finding focus is healthy. It’s necessary. It’s human. And lest we forget, lawyers are humans, or at least some of us are.

That there is an outlet available to help those who don’t have large chunks of free time because they are working so hard, nor money or energy to do anything but practice mindfulness in order to de-stress and sharpen their minds and up their lawyerly game can only be a good thing.  If it’s of no interest to you move on, but don’t mock those or ridicule those who choose to practice mindfulness.  Our profession could use a healthy dose of mindfulness.  And in case I forgot to justify this for those in the camp of ‘it’s all about the client’, all activities that fall under the umbrella of a lawyer’s self-care are beneficial to the client.  




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3 comments on “Why Lawyers Should Embrace, Not Ridicule, Mindfulness

  • One thing to remember, unfortunately, is that many attorneys are unhappy people (hence the high rate of depression amongst attorneys). Much of the ridicule, when one is doing something non-client centric is from attorneys who are jealous of one’s interests/hobbies/happiness. One of the best things an attorney can do is to not let themselves be drug into another’s depression and stay above that fray.

    One thing is to consider is that focusing on issues such as one’s business actually results in better service to the clients. If an attorney is the middle of writing a motion, and has to drop everything to deal with a business related emergency, then a disservice is done to the client. Taking the time to focus on other things, in turn, means that time devoted to the client can truly be devoted to the client.

    Good article – thanks for writing it.

  • I agree with Luke’s assessment above. Most who throw stones are jealous and spiteful although they would never admit it. You said it all in the last line, Susan – put your own air mask on first before trying to help others!

  • Mindfulness has been with us since before Biblical times. “Be still and wait upon the Lord” … it has a ring of familiarity, doesn’t it. The wise professional will embrace mindfulness, and prayer, if for no other reason than personal happiness and professional effectiveness. For further reading, search “positive psychology” and “mindfulness” in Scribd, audible, or amazon. A book that got me started over 20 years ago is “In the Flow of Life” by Eric Butterworth, by Unity publications. Blessings.

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