Meditating on Mindfulness in the Legal Profession

This week’s OG+S blog post is not a deep dive into a legal topic. Instead, I am taking time this week to talk about a topic that is a significant one for me and many others: mindfulness. This concept has been much discussed in the recent past, largely as an antidote to an increasingly frenetic, anxious world. Daniel J. Siegel describes that “…being mindful, having mindful awareness, is often defined as a way of intentionally paying attention to the present moment without being swept up by judgments.” This practice seems harder to do these days with so much to distract us— not least of which our phones, our email inboxes, etc— but it may actually be more necessary than ever precisely for that reason.

As someone who works in the legal profession, which is widely seen as one of the more stressful professions, I am aware of the need to stay mindful on a daily basis. This is not only for my own personal well-being, but also because some have noted (I believe quite rightly) that a more calm, aware state of being leads to better listening and thus better client communication and service. It stands to reason that a mindful lawyer would perhaps be a better lawyer, or at least a more open one.

One major barrier to mindfulness and a big driver of anxiety can be Imposter Syndrome, the idea that one is a failure or a fraud and they do not belong in their role, despite any objective success to prove otherwise. This fear may be more heightened today than ever, with comparison to others via social media painting unrealistic portraits on the lives and work of others. However, as Buddhist thought leader Pema Chödrön notes, “remind yourself, in whatever way is personally meaningful, that it is not in your best interest to reinforce thoughts and feelings of unworthiness.” Fighting Imposter Syndrome can also be achieved through mindfulness, with an aware, objective focus on one’s strengths and accomplishments. Further, a focused awareness on your own work rather than comparing oneself to others can reduce anxiety and persistent insecurity.

So how does one go about reclaiming peace of mind and practicing mindfulness on a regular basis? Besides the usual suggestion to establish a meditation practice if one is inclined, there are other small ways that mindfulness can be integrated into even the busiest daily routine. One idea, mentioned by Ashley Whillans of Harvard Business School on a recent podcast episode, is to become aware of “time confetti”, or small moments of free time that can be reclaimed in increments of even just a few minutes. Following Whillans’ advice, instead of taking the few minutes you may have free between meetings to check email or scroll social media, create a “time confetti list” to accomplish small tasks which can boost mindful awareness, like deep breathing or reflecting on gratitude.

I try daily to build mindfulness into my work as an attorney, to be aware of the world around me and truly listen to my clients, and I am grateful that the members of the OG+S team who write the blog entries you read, do your legal work, or participate in your community are a kind, compassionate bunch.

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