Mindfulness is the process of focusing your mind on the present moment. Too often, we get distracted and get lost in thoughts about something that happened to us in the past or we get worried about the future.
While mindfulness has been around for the past 2,500 years, it is only recently that society has begun to recognise its worth. Google's hugely successful mindfulness programme has a waiting list of up to six months to join and is regularly credited with boosting employees' happiness and creativity levels.
As lawyers and law students, we perform stressful tasks throughout our working day. A Law Society survey of junior lawyers found that 48% of respondents experienced poor mental health while 94% had experienced work-related stress. Exercise and mindfulness were frequently cited as antidotes to combat these.
Mindfulness teaches us that by letting go of that worry, our job performance will benefit too.
While some critics may dismiss mindfulness as nonsense, an increasing number of law schools are using it to help their students. A major law firm has appointed a Head of Mindfulness to help stressed associates deal with the rigours of their demanding jobs.
Dentons, a large multinational law firm, appointed Karina Furgowska-Durbina as its first CMO or Chief Mindfulness Officer in 2019. Dentons is the first law firm to appoint a CMO.
The appointment came as a result of her work with the NextMind programme. The programme was designed to help lawyers to reduce stress and improve their well-being through meditation.
The results of the programme were noticeable. There was a reduction in stress of almost a third, a 75% improvement in social wellbeing and an 18% improvement in emotional wellbeing.
Even some judges are starting to embrace the power of mindfulness as a way to deal with complex cases. This is bankruptcy judge Colleen Brown of Vermont:
"A few years ago, I was in the midst of a contentious trial where the two attorneys were having great difficulty focusing their examinations on the crucial factual issues, and they were each also raising objections that were overly technical. A couple hours into the trial, I noticed I was having trouble following the testimony because of the erratic questioning and frequent objections, and I was starting to run out of patience with the attorneys. I decided to take a recess to gather my thoughts.
I spent the 15-minute recess sitting, just focusing on my breath and settling myself into a peaceful, calm state. Once I did that, I was able to formulate instructions I could give to the attorneys which I believed would help them stay focused and reduce the number of unnecessary objections, without embarrassing them in front of their clients. I also knew if I were feeling calmer, I could be more attentive and less distracted if the attorneys went off track on their questioning or objections.
It worked. The attorneys seemed grateful for my instruction as to where I wanted them to focus their witness examinations and relieved they did not need to make so many objections. I also suspect they may have been able to observe I was calmer and more patient after the break. The trial proceeded in a more methodical way after the recess and I was able to enter a prompt ruling."
Law schools in the US have embraced the concept for several years while BPP University Law School in the United Kingdom has recently introduced a new series of initiatives to encourage mindfulness in their students. Students will be able to download meditations on their phones as well as visit meditation studios set up on campus.
How to do mindfulness
Notice everyday things
Savour the food you eat, look at the trees around you, breathe in the air.
Make it regular
Schedule a time where you take a walk and enjoy the moment.
Free yourself from the past and future
Focus on the now and don't get trapped in past memories or future worries.
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