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The Mindful Practice of Law By Sarah Y. Usman

Posted on September 25, 2017 in

In the practice of law, we are often victim to stressful situations that cause us to elicit negative responses, which we often come to later regret. Mindfulness serves as a way for us to take a moment to step back and really understand what we are doing in an effort to make better decisions, which in turn helps us both professionally and personally. Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits from the practice of mindfulness is developing a greater awareness of when we are off task, unfocused, or frazzled, which happens to many lawyers more often than they’d like to think. So what exactly is the “practice” of mindfulness? To many, mindfulness is just another word for meditation or relaxation. But many law firms and lawyers are starting to recognize that it is a lot more than that.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, defines mindfulness best: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Practicing mindfulness puts you in an objective state of mind, where you can put all your thoughts aside and focus on the present moment. The cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits of mindful practices benefit lawyers in their legal practice every day.  This may mean staying calm in the boardroom or the courtroom, or learning how to deal with a difficult client or opposing counsel. Taking a moment to practice mindfulness will help you respond to difficult situations in the most professional and objective way possible. In fact, mindfulness has gained so much recognition in the practice of law that the Florida Bar News has recently initiated a monthly mindfulness column as part of a health and wellness initiative.

So how exactly does one practice mindfulness?  The most common method is known as the “STOP” method. The STOP method consists of four steps: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed. When you “stop,” you are discontinuing everything that you are doing, bringing your body into an upright position. You then take multiple deep breaths, observing the physical responses of your body and the emotional responses in your mind, nothing else. Once that is complete, you then proceed back to your task at hand. You will notice that this practice will clear your mind, lower your stress, allow you to make decisions easily, think objectively, and increase your productivity. While practicing this method in the midst of a difficult situation is certainly helpful, implementing a daily practice into your routine will yield the best opportunities for maintaining a positive and stress-free lifestyle.

As the legal profession continues to bring attention to mindfulness, law firms are reminded of the importance of incorporating mindful practice into the everyday practice of law. Meanwhile, it is up to you to embrace this new, healthier lifestyle. Surely, adopting mindfulness practices will pay dividends for you and those around you.