World Mental Health Day: Why Mindfulness Matters for Legal Professionals

Judge Dan Hinde

In honor of World Mental Health Day, this seemed like an appropriate time to write about mindfulness in the legal profession. The concept of mindfulness is nothing new. The roots of mindfulness, and its accompanying practices of meditation and yoga, date back to ancient Eastern religions and philosophies. Mindfulness practices have been found in nearly every religion from Buddhism to Judaism and Hinduism to Christianity. People all over the world, whether they follow any faith, have practiced mindfulness over the years. The “Mindfulness Movement” has taken root and it is continuing to grow.

Today, the meaning of mindfulness has shifted away from many of its religious connections and the current mindfulness movement is largely secular and has reached individuals, companies, and seemingly entire sectors of the population.

The legal profession has been swept up in the movement, with bar associations offering webinars steeped in the concept of mindfulness and law firms developing a “well-being” focus and offering support for meditation.

Mindfulness, as a concept, can seem quite vague. The basic definition according to Merriam-Webster is “inclined to be aware.” So, mindfulness is about being aware, right? Well, yes and no. Mindfulness can be better described as the practice of being aware in the present moment without judgment or preconceptions and gratitude for the present. Mindfulness is an effective way to respond to life’s stresses, when one is fully aware of his or her thoughts, emotions, and actions. To simplify, mindfulness can bring one back to what is actually happening now, not stressing about what could happen.

Stress and anxiety are a part of life, especially during these times of uncertainty; however, we can learn to ease our anxious minds by strengthening our mindful skills instead of feeling enslaved by our own anxiety through mindfulness.

While a legal career is rewarding, it can come with risks to one’s health and quality of life. The concept of mindfulness came to the forefront of my attention during my transition from boutique law to big law. Regardless of the number of lawyers on a case, the amount of billable hours being entered, or the amount of resources offered, experiences in the legal profession are known to produce anxiety, isolation, and high rates of stress. With demanding caseloads, tight deadlines, and billable hours, those in the professional can often feel extreme pressures of stress (which is an inevitable part of our jobs and lives) that can lead to anxiety, depression, and/or substance abuse. Mindfulness practice helps one counteract the stress one feels and forces one to pause, breathe, and acknowledge what he or she is experiencing. This is why mindfulness is a powerful tool that can help decrease stress, improve mental clarity, and increase quality of life.

In order to help legal professionals develop mindful skills and tools to respond to the challenges and stresses they face in the profession, it is important to focus balance within our personal lives. Integrating mindfulness practices into one’s life enhances his or her abilities to act ethically, professionally, and with civility, while providing one with broader insight into his or her clients’ needs and the best methods to represent them.

The practices of mindfulness work to center a person, bringing him or her to a place of awareness of one’s present moment, both physically and mentally. It helps one with self-awareness and the appreciation for what one is experiencing, while working to foster an understanding and insight into oneself and others. Mindfulness can not only reduce the effects of stress and anxiety, but also help legal professionals with attention regulation, emotional regulation, empathy and compassion.

While law firms, legal departments, law schools, and bar associations all have roles to play in supporting legal professional’s mental health and well-being, legal professionals can also learn healthy coping strategies for dealing with the inevitable stressors of the profession on an individual level by incorporating mindfulness practices into their lives.

In a profession that is mentally and emotionally challenging, healthy coping mechanisms like mindfulness can make a difference. While mindfulness isn’t a cure-all, it can provide much-needed space in one’s life. Using mindfulness to maintain a healthy lifestyle can help ensure one to deliver his or her best work and best self for ones’ clients throughout their career.

Ashley Stephenson

Ashley Stephenson is a solution-oriented legal professional with diverse litigation experience and freelance writer, who views every challenge as an opportunity for growth. Her writings have been featured in Huffington Post and Medium. Ashley is based in New York City and is a member of the local Bar Association, Mindfulness in Law Society, and the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society.

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