Mindfulness Practice In Law Firms

Mindfulness PracticeLast week, I attended the NALP Professional Development Institute in Washington D.C. It was an educational and engaging two days interacting with some of the best minds in legal education and professional development. Topics ranged from online learning to strategic planning to law firm economics to – mindfulness practice. As I was reviewing the agenda, I spotted this topic wedged in between leadership development and law school expectations: Mindfulness Meditation: The Not-So-Secret Weapon for Productivity and Stress Management. Intrigued, I signed up.

Mindfulness, Stress and Productivity

The panel of mindfulness speakers included a law firm partner, a campus minister, and three leaders in attorney development. They talked about how mindfulness had transformed their lives. One person tearfully credited mindfulness for her success against cancer. Another, for transforming her from a constantly stressed out lawyer to a far more centered one. The campus minister explained that his course on mindfulness was consistently the best reviewed at his law school. They talked about the endless benefits of mindfulness – expanding your mind, increasing your focus, reducing your tension, improving your health, building your empathy, and helping you find your own personal center. Mindfulness, they explained, could change the world.

But for now, they wanted to start with law firms. And while the rest of the program was exceptional (including the short meditation exercise we did), it was this part that left me wanting more. Because as both panelists and attendees admitted, law firms were, for the most part, not yet ready to create mindfulness programs for their attorneys.

I came back to Chicago and asked myself the same question the panelists asked us: how can we bring mindfulness to law firms?

Bringing Mindfulness to the Legal Workplace

As I said above, mindfulness has extensive benefits, particularly for lawyers. Lawyers, however, have been very slow to adopt. As mindfulness expert Jeena Cho writes,

“Lawyers are slow adopters. We don’t like to rock the boat or be the first at anything, and we live by precedents. While corporate America is reaping the benefits from mindfulness practice, law firms are falling behind by standing on the sideline looking to see who’s going to be the first to adopt a firm-wide mindfulness training.”

How can we get law firms off the sidelines? How can we bring mindfulness to the legal workplace? For those questions, I turned to an expert in both mindfulness and law: Jeffrey Bunn.

Bunn is a business litigation attorney and the former Chair of the CBA Commercial Litigation Committee. When he’s not arguing in court, Bunn is a practicing yogi and meditator at Bottom Line Yoga, located in the Chicago Board of Trade building.

Bunn explain why mindfulness is crucial for today’s lawyers.

Personally, mindfulness is about figuring out after 30 years why and how I continue practicing law, aside from the obvious goal of earning a living. Professionally, it’s about battling for the ‘soul’ of our profession and suggesting a new model for law firms operating in the twenty-first century.

Bunn believes law firms can have both successful practices and healthy lawyers by running their businesses mindfully.

Law firms first need to understand what mindfulness is not. “It is not religion-based,” Bunn says. “It is not some alternative wisdom. It’s certainly not contrary to traditional business practices.” Rather, according to Bunn, mindfulness is an “effective legal and business tool, consistent with notions of professional civility.” Most importantly, he adds, “mindfulness is supported by evidence-based science.”

The Business Case for Mindfulness

So let’s get down to it. What’s the business case for mindfulness? According to Bunn, “mindfulness will improve employee health awareness, resulting in lower insurance expenses. It will allow your lawyers to better serve their clients by increasing their self-confidence, and providing them with greater clarity of purpose.” Mindfulness will also help firms retain those employees, increasing employee satisfaction, resulting in lower turnover expenses. “And let’s not forget,” Bunn adds, “mindfulness programs can qualify for CLE credit.”

Mindfulness is also an outreach tool. “Implementing a mindfulness program is great from a marketing standpoint, for both your clients and your potential lateral hires.” Firms with mindfulness programs can demonstrate themselves as leaders in their market and show that they are willing to be ever so slightly maverick in bucking professional trends and biases.

Bringing Mindfulness to Your Law Firm

On board yet? Is mindfulness is in your law firm’s future? If so, Bunn has some ideas of how to get started.

Step 1: Start from the Top. “Ideally, your law firm’s mindfulness practice will be sincerely endorsed and promoted by your Managing Partner or Management Committee. If not, it must be understood by your professionals that the practice has been thoroughly considered and endorsed by the partners of the law firm, and is a foundation upon which future growth of the firm will be built. A program that is not genuinely promoted and encouraged by the “decision-makers” has no chance of taking root in your firm’s culture.”

Step 2: Find the Money. “Figure out how participation in your firm’s mindfulness program can be integrated into your firm’s key metrics. For instance, is time devoted to a firm-endorsed mindfulness practice included in billable hours? In bonus calculations?”

Step 3: Get Buy-In. “Involve your Practice Group Leaders in the rollout. Seek and encourage their input and participation, particularly as to specific mindfulness practices that may be relevant to the practice area that they are managing.”

Step 4: Get Even More Buy-In. “Formally designate a well-regarded partner to head your mindfulness program. The partner in charge of your mindfulness program should not be regarded any differently than the partner in charge of your diversity program or the partner in charge of your pro bono program.”

Step 5 – Involve Your Clients. “Perhaps most importantly, promote your mindfulness program to your law firm’s clients, as a plus. As a value add. As something that will boost productivity and, by extension, boost results for clients – at no cost to them.”

Measuring Success of Mindfulness Practice

Bunn recognizes that there will be managing partners who will want to measure and quantify success in dollars and cents. But, he says, the success of a mindfulness program can’t be judged that way. “I used to work with a Managing Partner who liked to say, “If I can’t measure it, I can’t manage it.” Well, I’ve got news – you won’t necessarily be able to immediately measure the impact of your law firm’s mindfulness program. At least, not by any of the traditional metrics of which we lawyers are so fond. You will, however, soon observe an increased level of satisfaction and enthusiasm for working with and at your firm, both among your clients and among your professionals.”

Satisfaction. That’s key. We’re a service industry. Satisfaction and results breed loyalty, essential for our professional success.

Clients who stay with you and maybe even expand their business dealings with your law firm, are a good thing. Equally important, professionals who stay with you and continue to be productive members of your law firm, are also a good thing.

So to those who demand a profit/loss statement from a mindfulness program, Bunn says this:

You may not be able to immediately measure the benefits of sponsoring a mindfulness practice, but you will see a positive impact at the end of the year. And that is something you should be thinking about – something of which you can be mindful.

Namaste. I am ready to dive into mindfulness practice in the new year.  How about you?


We thank Jeffrey Bunn for his significant contribution to this post and for raising our awareness of the importance of mindfulness practice in the legal profession.

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