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Winning an Uphill Battle: How to Start Your Own Mindfulness Program

Posted by Elise Luce Kraemer on Jul 31, 2019 1:41:50 PM


By Elise Kraemer, Esq.

Practicing at a law firm can be tremendously rewarding, but it is also an intense, demanding and often unmanageably stressful endeavor for both the lawyers and the professional staff that support and promote the legal team.

Eve A. Wood, M.D., executive coach, speaker and founder of A Healthy Lawyer describes this trying dynamic.

“According to the ABA National Task for Lawyer Well-Being, to be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer,” Wood says. “Yet, the profession is falling short, with recent studies demonstrating high rates of chronic stress, depression and burnout among lawyers and law students. Prioritizing self-care and well-being are an indispensable part of a lawyer's duty of competence, improving mood, professional success and client satisfaction. Meditation is a valuable strategy to foster resilience, focus and calm, and has been of benefit to many of my attorney clients.”

It’s undeniable that lawyers are struggling to balance work and self-care. The good news is that initiating a mindfulness practice can be an effective tool to combat stress and thus enhance performance. Given their proven benefits, it seems obvious that law firms should promote and support mindfulness programs. However, senior management often resists, which is not surprising since lawyers are trained skeptics.

These three tips can help you implement a mindfulness program at your law firm:

1. Enlist a strong and relatable ambassador.

Katayun I. Jaffari, partner at Ballard Spahr LLP, a recognized leader in the fields of corporate governance and securities, has been a tremendous mindfulness ambassador to the legal community. During her term as chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Business Section, Jaffari promoted a series of well-attended mindfulness programs, which set the stage for further programming at firms. She describes how mindfulness has enhanced her skillset as a lawyer.

“I love being a lawyer, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute to society as an advocate for others,” Jaffari says. “The practice of a lawyer, however, can be very stressful and sometimes completely overwhelming. And yet, I haven't let the difficulties of the practice of law keep me from being and doing what I love — thanks to my mindfulness practice. Mindfulness brings me to a state of focus, clarity, calm and comfort. Because of my mindfulness practice, I have become a better listener, a better problem solver and happier in my career. All of these attributes make me a better lawyer, colleague and trusted advisor.”  

Enlisting the help of a mindfulness advocate within your firm or immediate legal community to share tips and experience can be incredibly persuasive. If you don’t personally know someone with this experience, consider looking into one of the many popular mindfulness “gurus.” For example, Dan Harris, ABC news anchor and author of “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” makes a scientific case for mindfulness. His website, 10% Happier, offers resources that appeal to a more cynical audience.

2. Peer pressure can be a good thing.

The legal profession has been late to the table when it comes to mindfulness — much of Corporate America and even the U.S. military already have established mindfulness programs. Blue chip businesses, such as Google, Aetna, Intel, General Mills, eBay, Nike, Apple and Target, all offer extensive mindfulness programs to their workforce. The Forbes article, The Future of Work: Mindfulness As A Leadership Practice, provides a helpful overview of this trend and offers suggestions for beginning a dialogue with leadership to bring mindfulness to your workplace.

Law firms are highly sensitive to what other firms are doing. In the case of mindfulness, investigate what your competitors are doing and, if any of them have already established mindfulness programs, you may be able to convince your firm to do the same.  Reach out to the individuals who have successfully promoted mindfulness programs at other firms; they may be avid mindfulness proselytizers who will almost certainly share their experiences and go out of their way to help you. The Mindfulness for Lawyers website also has an impressive list of name-brand law firm clients that have jumped onboard. Mindfulness in Law Society and The Anxious Lawyer are additional resources worth reviewing.

3. Use your superior marketing skills.

If you’re reading this, you are likely a marketing professional and uniquely qualified to promote mindfulness at your firm. Do the research: What are other law firms/clients already doing? Who are your best ambassadors? What is likely the best argument (e.g., lowering stress, improved performance, retaining talent)? Put together a compelling proposal — perhaps a small pilot program — and make your pitch!

Finally, patience is key. In the ABA article, How mindfulness can improve your law practice, Scott L. Rodgers, founder and director of the University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program, outlines the progression of mindfulness in the legal profession: from ignorance to confusion to familiarity to embracing the concept to — finally — practicing mindfulness. This is a useful paradigm to keep in mind. You may face ignorance, and even resistance and skepticism, but you will make progress with your thoughtful marketing strategy. And, ultimately, your workplace will benefit greatly from your efforts.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Strategies Magazine. For more great thought leadership, LMA members can access the Strategies Magazine digital archive. 

Not a member? Learn more about LMA membership here, or how to subscribe to Strategies Magazine here.

E-Kraemer headshotElise Luce Kraemer, J.D., is the executive director of graduate programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she focuses on recruiting, admissions and student services for foreign trained LLMs. Kraemer has studied yoga and meditation for more than 20 years and now uses her background in mindfulness and law to help lawyers, law students and staff better manage stress and improve focus. She graduated from the Practicum in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Professionals at Jefferson Myrna-Brind Center of Integrative Medicine last spring and completed the certificate program at the Penn Center for Mindfulness.  

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Topics: mental health awareness, health and wellness, mental health, mindfulness, meditation

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