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Mindfulness meditation "can enhance a host of competencies related to lawyer effectiveness, including increased focus and concentration, working memory, critical cognitive skills, reduced burnout, and ethical and rational decision-making." That’s according to a Report issued by a Coalition, which includes the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.
The Report addresses a recent, landmark study confirming widespread and substantial levels of mental health disorders among attorneys. The Report notes that many have “advocated for mindfulness as an important practice for lawyers and law students. Evidence also suggests that mindfulness can enhance the sense of work-life balance by reducing workers’ preoccupation with work.”
Mental health issues among the legal profession have reached a fever pitch. “Any way you look at it,” according to Patrick Krill an integral member of the Coalition that issued the Report, “this data is very alarming, and paints the picture of an unsustainable professional culture that’s harming too many people. Attorney impairment poses risks to the struggling individuals themselves and to our communities, government, economy and society. The stakes are too high for inaction.”
One way attorneys can combat mental health issues the Report recommends, is mindfulness practice. "Mindfulness meditation," according to the Report, "is a practice that can enhance cognitive reframing (and thus resilience) by aiding our ability to monitor our thoughts and avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed." Drawing on research, the Report explains:
"A rapidly growing body of research on meditation has shown its potential for help in addressing a variety of psychological and psychosomatic disorders, especially those in which stress plays a causal role. One type of meditative practice is mindfulness—a technique that cultivates the skill of being present by focusing attention on your breath and detaching from your thoughts or feelings. Research has found that mindfulness can reduce rumination, stress, depression, and anxiety. It also can enhance a host of competencies related to lawyer effectiveness, including increased focus and concentration, working memory, critical cognitive skills, reduced burnout, and ethical and rational decision-making. Multiple articles have advocated for mindfulness as an important practice for lawyers and law students. Evidence also suggests that mindfulness can enhance the sense of work-life balance by reducing workers’ preoccupation with work."
There are many ways to address mental health issues among lawyers, and the Report lists several others in addition to mindfulness practices. But mindfulness meditation is a simple technique that can be practiced at a desk, in an office, on the bus, or even walking around the block during lunchtime. Creative CLE created the course Get Wise: Mindfulness for Attorneysto help lawyers specifically start a mindfulness and meditation practice.
The problem of attorney well-being, without widespread changes among the profession, will likely increase. And it is the public, in the quality of the legal advocacy presented, who will ultimately suffer. The issue is nicely summarized by the introductory paragraphs to the Report, which offers this:
"The benefits of increased lawyer well-being are compelling and the cost of lawyer impairment are too great to ignore. There has never been a better or more important time for all sectors of the profession to get serious about the substance use and mental health of ourselves and those around us."
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