I believe that a daily mindfulness practice can help lawyers cope with the difficulties of our challenging profession. In May 2021, the Oregon State Bar Bulletin will publish my article “Mindfulness 101: Why and How to Get Started.” I have put together a 60-90 minute CLE on this topic that qualifies for the Oregon State Bar’s CLE credit for Mental Health/Substance Abuse/Cognitive Impairment. I welcome the opportunity to speak with legal groups or law firms about this topic, because I think it is so important for lawyer well-being.
There is growing evidence that mindfulness can impact the structure of your brain in positive ways. Dr. Sara Lazar, a professor at Harvard Medical School, has demonstrated that a consistent mindfulness practice correlates with an increase in the hippocampus (which helps learning, memory and emotional regulation) and the temporo-parietal lobe (which helps cognition, perception and compassion), and a decrease in the amygdala (which manages our fight, flight or freeze system). These changes are a result of neuroplasticity — the concept that our brains continue to change over the course of our lives. Mindfulness is a way to intentionally make those changes. If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Lazar’s TEDx talk is a good place to start.
While much of this research is in its early stages, there is widespread consensus that developing a mindfulness practice can have a positive impact on a person’s daily life. Some of the main benefits are a reduction in stress, anxiety and irritability, along with an increase in relaxation, connection and focus. The great news is that meditating for a relatively short period of time (10-20 minutes) appears to be enough to produce those benefits. The catch is that the key to neuroplasticity is consistency, so it’s ideal to have a daily practice. Andy Puddicome, the founder of a mindfulness app called Headspace, gives a great overview of the benefits of meditation in this TED talk.
In 2017, the American Bar Association released a report entitled “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.” The ABA report came on the heels of a 2016 study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine entitled “The Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys.” That study revealed that lawyers had levels of anxiety, depression, and problem drinking that are significantly higher than in the general population. The ABA report included a specific recommendation about the benefits of mindfulness meditation to reduce harm and improve competency for lawyers.