Increased awareness of mental health problems within the legal profession has led many firms to introduce wellbeing programmes. One practice that has gained in popularity in recent years is mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness are universal to all professions. There is a reason though, that Mindfulness is a skill that is particularly advantageous to lawyers.
Firstly, lawyers are centred on people-related skills and tasks that use a high degree of emotional intelligence. Allowing them to understand their client and their opponent’s psychology to win their cases. Mindful awareness of emotions can help lawyers avoid getting sucked into the reactive state of fight or flight response that can get activated in a fight against an opponent. Mindfulness helps to maintain this objectivity by downregulating the emotional response. So that the situation is not perceived as a threat.
Unfortunately, lawyers are so used to living in a stressed state they accept the feelings as their normal. This constant adrenaline state could be responsible for the results in The Junior Lawyers Division’s 2019 Resilience and Wellbeing survey. This survey reported that over 93% of respondents felt stressed in their role the month before completing the survey, with almost a quarter being severely or extremely stressed. Importantly, over 77% of the respondents felt that their firm could do more to tackle stress at work and that stress was negatively impacting upon their personal lives.
Mindfulness in Practice
The above survey’s highlighted a problem that the legal profession had known all along – that the culture was damaging not only to health but also to the results for clients. The answer to solving the adversarial fight or flight culture was not clear until mindfulness began to be introduced to law firms.
Mindful awareness is an antidote to the adversarial nature of the legal profession. It helps to provide a natural breathing space in which we can see things more dispassionately. In this space, it provides the time to respond in a more reflective way that both looks after our own interests and takes into wise consideration the other side’s interests. Taking this further, this enhanced ability to understand human interactions can lead to a more holistic meeting of the minds between opposing parties. In other words, it leads to better and more robust agreements and resolutions.
Indeed, since mindfulness has been introduced to law firms it has been a massive hit. For example, the international law firm Dentons appointed its first chief mindfulness officer. Other firms and chambers also look set to follow suit, with the growth of wellbeing committees, officers and other mindful initiatives, such as the Mindful Business Charter. Mindfulness has also gradually found its way to the bar. Following the first Wellbeing at the Bar report in 2015, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn held mindfulness sessions for barristers – the first such wellbeing initiatives in this field. In 2018, the Mindfulness in Law group was created as a resource for all legal professionals and others working in the legal industry to learn and deepen their mindfulness practice and promote wellbeing and mindfulness education within the profession. The group now meets monthly in London with the support of the Law Society. Alongside the initiatives taken by firms across the country, the institutional framework of mindfulness is strengthening as the Bar Council and Law Society recognise its importance.
Mindfulness legal research
Currently, empirical research on how practising mindfulness affects members of the profession is thin on the ground. There are growing calls for more professional-specific research which is currently being tested and researched in universities throughout the world. The evidence soon will catch up with the results that are been seen practically. What is known currently is that regular mindfulness meditation can enhance self-awareness and interpersonal relationships. These have been shown to have a dramatic effect on a lawyers’ stress levels, their ability to concentrate at work and their personal lives.
Many leading law firms are now appointing mindfulness programmes. This is because they recognise the positive effect mindfulness has upon their staff, their clients and their services. If you haven’t already done so, why don’t you bring a mindfulness session to your practice? So you can experience the power of mindfulness for your firm. As part of research into this area, it would be good to have a list of law firms who would be happy to be a part of mindfulness research.
Would your firm like to participate in enhancing the body of research contributing to mindfulness at work? Then please send an email to the address below and it can be arranged for your firm to be involved. Likewise, if you would like to experience the Mindfulness for Lawyers programme – a mindfulness programme developed just for lawyers with lawyer based outcomes in mind – then also send an email to the address below.