The Lawyer is Present

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Following on from his previous insight How do you know if you have a mindful lawyer, Anthony Kearns, Practice Group Leader - Consulting, discusses ways to identify how the mindful lawyer is now present.

So, you have stumbled across a mindful lawyer and you are enjoying the experience so much that you are working with her more and more. You have started reaching out to her as a sounding board for all sorts of challenges you are facing. In fact, now you look for opportunities to connect with her without any clear problem to solve. You can’t really put your finger on why she is different to the other lawyers you work with, but you know it feels different. So, how she is pulling this off?

  1. She is peaceful. There really is no other way to describe this. She is calm even when the world seems to be falling down around you. She is not merely suppressing her feelings only to explode later, she is processing them in the moment. It is not that she doesn’t care or is not empathic; in fact, it’s just the opposite. When you are in the thick of it you feel like you are in it together and you feel better with her by your side. Her serenity is contagious. My talented and thoughtful friend Richard Chambers has co-authored the best review I have read of the research on mindfulness and the regulation of emotion. The evidence is compelling. Read the review here.
  2. He is compassionate with himself. Even though you may not see this as strength in yourself it is one of the reasons you admire your mindful lawyer. It is different to self-confidence or self-esteem, as you frequently experience these traits and they don’t make you feel the same way. It is definitely not arrogance. Rather he seems to have an unqualified acceptance of himself. In western society and particularly among professionals, self-compassion is a tricky concept. Most professionals believe that their success is a direct result of how hard they are on themselves. Like the flame beneath a saucepan, we believe that the critical rigour we bring to ourselves is what keeps us “on the boil”. In fact, the fantastic Kristen Neff has found that self-compassion supports the sustainable pursuit of excellence through a mastery orientation to learning and a growth response to failure. It is also enhanced by mindfulness practice.
  3. She holds her knowledge “lightly”. In many ways this is the product of the first two. She doesn’t need to have the answer to add value. She doesn’t need to advocate an opinion to contribute. She is comfortable in genuine ambiguity and is patient in allowing a solution to emerge from the creative space she generates with good questions of herself and others. She can also be decisive when it is called for. In the words of the great mindfulness practitioner, Albert Einstein: “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift”.
  4. He is creative. As a sophisticated client you know a lot of lawyers who are incredibly smart and have great ideas, but your mindful lawyer is different. He seems to connect ideas that others don’t. He can consider the context and the law and synthesise them into a solution that will solve multiple problems. He seems to have more frequent insights and is open to considering multiple perspectives. It is a potent combination. Brian Ostafin and Kyle Kassman of the University of Groningen have also shown that this is one of the benefits of mindfulness practice. Read here.

If this mindfulness caper is so useful why isn’t every lawyer doing it? Firstly, all of the empirical research on mindfulness is on people other than lawyers so it cannot possibly apply to us. Secondly, like most high-achievement orientated descendants of those who survived two world wars and the great depression we have inherited what I call the “Spartan Myth”: the belief that security, success and fulfilment are achieved through relentless self-criticism and hard work. Finally, mindfulness practice takes nothing but time and patience, but these are among our scarcest resources… at least that’s what we have come to believe.

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

Key contacts

Anthony Kearns

Practice Group Leader, Consulting