Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Cairns, in the balmy tropical north, to speak at a conference held by the Family Law Practitioners Association (FLPA) themed “The Modern Family Lawyer”.
When the theme of the conference was decided it struck me as an ideal opportunity to “think outside the box” and speak about mindfulness and how it can benefit lawyers (and all of us really). However I did so with some trepidation because generally speaking, lawyers can be a fairly cynical bunch.
For most of us encountering very stressful days filled with meetings, deadlines and expectations, the idea of slowing down and observing the mind makes little sense. There is just too much to do in too little time.
However, given my own personal experience having integrated mindfulness and meditation into my routine over the past five years and experiencing first-hand its benefits, I believe it is essential for lawyers and all busy and stressed professionals to learn about developing their skills in wellbeing and resiliency – not only for their personal benefit but also because of the flow on effects to enable them to provide better service to clients, many of whom are going through one of the most difficult experiences they will encounter in their lives.
Thanks to neuroimaging, the scientific research now tells us that prolonged stress changes our brain but the brain remains plastic and malleable throughout life. So there is potential to work on training our minds to better cope in situations of chronic stress.
Stress in the Legal Profession
I am fortunate to love what I do. Thankfully, I have recognised the need to develop skills and techniques needed to manage the some of the stresses associated with it. However, this is not necessarily so across the profession.
There is overwhelming research about how the impacts of stress are manifesting for some in in the legal profession and also for law students. Given this, there is a need to look at new and innovative ways as to how lawyers approach their work.
As there is changing of the guard and a new generation of lawyers make decisions shaping law practices, we, ought to reflect on two things:-
- Firstly, as a profession, placing greater importance on developing the practical skills to look after ourselves & better cope with stress; and
- Secondly, developing what are often referred to as the “soft skills” needed to become more effective lawyers, who are better equipped to meet the ever-changing needs of their clients and the marketplace.
Learning skills in mindfulness can help achieve this.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become a huge buzzword in recent years.
The main exponent of mindfulness is John Kabit-Zinn, who founded mindfulness based stress reduction in 1979. Kabit –Zinn holds a Ph.D. & is based at University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Kabit – Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is simply:-
“paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
So what are the benefits to the modern lawyer of developing skills in mindfulness and cultivating mindfulness practices?
Mindfulness is one of the most effective tools for training the mind. There is mounting evidence of the effectiveness of mindfulness, with over 3000 scientific studies and over 500 academic and research papers published worldwide as to its benefits.
The benefits fall into two categories:-
- helping develop the skills for lawyers to better deal with the stresses associated with their practice.
- assisting to hone key lawyering skills, to make them more effective lawyers and improving service to their clients as a result.
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to hone skills such as:-
- Listening, reacting and responding;
- Developing emotional intelligence;
- Decision making; and
- Deepening and clarifying awareness of a client’s needs.
We need more than just superior technical skills
It is no longer enough to solely focus on possessing the technical legal skills required – these are essential but must also be accompanied by other skills.
As a family lawyer, clients are looking to me at one of the most difficult times of their lives. Having the ability to advise, guide and educate my clients and find solutions to their problems with empathy – considering their individual needs, is key. To be better equipped to do this, I need to be conscious, mindful & learn the skills required to “respond” rather than “react”.
Watch this space!
As developing skills in wellbeing, resiliency and mindfulness is a topic I am extremely passionate about, over the coming months I will write on this blog about:-
- what “mindful lawyering” is and the movement in the United States;
- research about some of the challenges faced by the legal profession both internationally and in Australia;
- the benefits mindfulness can offer to the modern lawyer and those experiencing separation and divorce; and
- practical tips on how we can start to cultivate mindfulness.
For those of you interested in learning more about mindfulness and how it can benefit people experiencing stress, I would love to hear from you.