If lawyers are not well and present in the moment, they cannot competently do their jobs. This was the clear message throughout the Mindfulness in Law Society’s 2018 national conference entitled, Mindfulness and the Path to Lawyer Well-Being. The conference occurred on August 2, 2018 at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Over 100 people attended this historic conference, the first-ever national mindful lawyering conference. I was lucky enough to be in attendance for this one-of-a-kind conference where lawyers from all over the country talked about the importance of mindfulness in the legal profession.
Mindfulness Is about Being Present
Attendees learned that mindfulness is a quality of the mind that strives to be fully present in the moment, accepting what is without any judgment. Judi Cohen, lawyer, mindfulness teacher, and founder of Warrior One, explained that with mindfulness, there is no wishing things are other than they are. The only moment is the present one.
The practice of mindfulness is particularly important for lawyers who are regularly under stress. The Mindfulness in Law Society reminded attendees that if this stress is not handled well, it can lead to things such as work addiction, sleep deprivation, job dissatisfaction, substance abuse, etc. A mindfulness practice such as meditation, yoga, or Qi Gong can help avoid all this by training the mind to be present and recognize what is happening before reacting. For example, it is not a problem to be angry. Rather, the problem comes when a person does not recognize they are angry because that is when the harshly-worded email is sent or yelling in court occurs without pausing before reacting. Many lawyers speaking at the conference also reminded people that a mindfulness practice does not have to be yoga or mediation if that does not work. Instead, such things as taking a walk or turning your phone off to be present during your morning commute are also mindfulness practices.
The Impact of Being Present for Lawyers
Retired U.S. district court Judge Ricardo Urbina delivered the keynote address. Judge Urbina discussed how his longtime meditation practice helped him be a better judge. It allowed him to be more present, less reactive, and more efficient, and served him well in the many high-profile and high-stress cases he heard such as the Guantanamo Bay litigation.
In addition to a first-hand account from Judge Urbina about the benefits of mindfulness, conference attendees also learned about the scientific research on mindfulness from Dr. Judson Brewer. Dr. Brewer explained the neuroscience behind the effectiveness of mindfulness training for dealing with lawyer stress and dissatisfaction, as well as how mindfulness can help lawyers break free from the mental habits that undermine well-being. The key, according to Dr. Brewer, is to understand how the habit starts so that it can be addressed. This is where a mindful practice plays a key role. Mindfulness drives a “wedge” between a craving or trigger and one’s behavior. It gives a person time to respond before they behave in a way that they will regret such as the angry email or yelling in court.
The conference also allowed time for attendees to discuss how they integrate mindfulness in their practices. Discussion included how the Mindfulness in the Law Society Law Student Division has brought more awareness and programming around mindfulness and well-being to law schools throughout the country. There are now more law school classes on mindfulness for lawyers. Some lawyers explained how they were able to develop a weekly sitting meditation group for their offices and the positive impact of these groups such as people better dealing with stress and being in a better mood. Another lawyer talked about how they take a few moments to sit quietly by themselves in their office before they meet with a client and how they are more present when they do this. The takeaway message was mindfulness is a necessary legal skill like research and writing.
I am happy to report that the first national mindful lawyering conference was a success. It provided attendees guidance, support, and inspiration. My biggest takeaway from the conference was I am not alone; a community of lawyers exists who realize the importance of mindfulness in the legal profession. This conference should become an annual event along with others following in its footsteps. It is a critical time in the legal profession with such high numbers of lawyers and law students experiencing substance abuse and mental health issues and in society with civil discourse being tested. Therefore, it is even more important for lawyers to practice mindfulness so that they can be present and healthy to be the leaders society needs at this time.
If you are feeling some FOMO if you missed this conference, you can check out the sessions from the conference now online. Please share your thoughts and ideas about mindfulness in the law in the comments section below.