I love a guest blogger and this week my fellow Family Lawyer, Fiona Caulley is sharing her learning on Mindfulness and its application to our daily practice of law. I had the pleasure of hearing Fiona present on this topic last weekend at a conference we were both involved in. I loved it! So much so that I asked if she might be willing to send me an article for my blog!
Mindfulness- it may be a buzz word but it is something I introduced into my life with vigour last year and I have not looked back. Anyone using my ‘Happiness Calendar’ will know that I am firmly advocating for living in the moment- enjoying the small things and trying to be ‘present’ wherever you are, whenever you are. Sometimes this can be easy, but when life’s challenges are taking over, being mindful can be hard. But that is it just it- if you can, in those difficult moments, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and focus on being right there, without letting your mind travelling off ahead of you, you will immediately start to feel calmer.
Fiona is talking about mindfulness for lawyers, but these skills are useful everyone- at work, at home, in relationships- everywhere in life. If we can ‘slow down’ as I say, be more aware of our surrounds we start to live our own lives to the full rather than the sense that our lives are living themselves and we are just being dragged along for the ride!
Over the weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Cairns in the balmy tropical north to speak with Clarissa at a conference held by the Family Law Practitioners Association (FLPA) themed “The Modern Family Lawyer”.
The conference was arranged by Clarissa in her capacity as President of FLPA and when I was speaking with her about the theme of the conference it struck me as an ideal opportunity to “think outside the box” so I pitched speaking about mindfulness and how it can benefit lawyers.
However I did so with some trepidation, because generally speaking, lawyers can be a fairly cynical bunch. Whilst I was confident that Clarissa, would express her characteristic exuberance and enthusiasm for the idea, I had some reservations about how it may be perceived more widely by my colleagues.
The reason for my initial reservations… for most of lawyers, burdened with stressful days filled with meetings, deadlines and expectations the idea of sitting and observing the mind makes little sense. There is just too much to do in too little time.
However, given my own personal experience having integrated mindfulness and meditation into my routine over the past five years and having experiencing first-hand the benefits which I have derived, I believe it is essential for lawyers (and all of us) to develop these skills.
Mindfulness assists lawyers with our own wellbeing and resiliency. But importantly, these skills also help lawyers to provide better service to their clients. I work in family law and many of the people I assist following relationship breakdown are going through one of the most difficult experiences they will encounter in their lives. They are looking to me to guide, advise, educate and help them through and I have found that mindfulness techniques enable me to better help my clients at such a difficult time.
Stress in the Legal Profession
I am fortunate to love what I do and have developed the skills and techniques needed to manage some of the stresses associated with it. By no means am I suggesting I have it all figured out and that I don’t get stressed, as we all do, but I have recognised the need to develop the so called ‘soft skills’ which are essential to not only survive practicing law but to THRIVE. I have made a commitment to cultivating these skills in my practice on a daily basis.
However, the research suggests that this is not necessarily so across the legal profession. Given the overwhelming research about how the impacts of stress are manifesting for some in the legal profession and also for law students, there is a need to look at new and innovative ways to gain perspective about how lawyers (and lawyers-to-be) approach their work.
As there is changing of the guard and a new generation of lawyers make decisions shaping law practices, as a profession, we ought to reflect on two things:-
- Firstly, placing greater importance on developing the practical skills to look after our own wellbeing & better cope with stress (similar to fitting our own oxygen mask first, before we are placed to help others); and
- Secondly, developing what are often referred to as the “soft skills” needed to become more effective lawyers, who are better equipped to meet the ever-demanding needs of their clients and the marketplace.
Learning skills in mindfulness can help achieve this. But this is not limited to lawyers – we can all benefit.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become a huge buzzword in recent years. It is one of the most effective tools for training the mind, with over 3000 scientific studies and over 500 academic and research papers published worldwide as to its benefits.
The main exponent of mindfulness is John Kabit-Zinn, who founded mindfulness based stress reduction in 1979. Kabit –Zinn holds a Ph.D. & is based at University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabit – Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is simply:-
“Paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
I now practice mindfulness techniques each and every day, throughout the day. This can include short guided meditations, taking short breaks, standing, moving and stretching and ensuring that my mind is focused on the task at hand, not wandering throughout the day.
So what are the benefits to the modern lawyer of developing skills in mindfulness and adopting mindfulness practices?
The benefits include helping develop the skills for lawyers to better deal with the stresses associated with their practice and assisting to hone key lawyering skills, to make more effective lawyers and improving service to their clients as a result.
This is because mindfulness has been scientifically proven to hone skills such as:-
- Listening, reacting and responding;
- Developing emotional intelligence;
- Decision making; and
- Deepening and clarifying awareness of a client’s needs.
It is no longer enough to possess only the technical legal skills required for our job. These are essential however as a family lawyer and collaborative lawyer, clients are looking to us at one of the most difficult times of their lives. Having the ability to advise, guide and educate those I assist to find solutions to their problems with empathy – considering their individual needs, is key.
To be better equipped to do this, I believe lawyers need to be conscious, mindful & learn the skills required to “respond” rather than “react”.
Fiona Caulley is Specialist Family Lawyer based in Brisbane. She is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law and a Collaborative Lawyer. I know Fiona as a talented family lawyer but when I think of her I am always reminded of her amazing style and ability to always find the best food in Brisbane! If you would like to learn more about mindfulness or would like to get in touch with Fiona you will find her blog here and you can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter. (and if you are really lucky she might share some of her recent restaurant recommendations too!)