The Anxious Lawyer, An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation is a straightforward book which incorporates personal stories, basic introductory information and mindfulness and meditation exercises written specifically for lawyers. *(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from author Jeena Cho in exchange for providing my honest review of the book.)
The authors, Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford, both lawyers themselves, share their experiences with meditation, the different reasons they were each separately drawn to the practice, and how it has helped them in their personal and professional lives, making their lives as lawyers – and as people – more rewarding. Cho is a bankruptcy practitioner in California while Gifford was a litigator and enforcement attorney for the Federal Reserve and is now an investor and advisor on policy and regulatory issues in the financial technology fields.
The legal profession is stressful, and more and more lawyers are suffering. It’s one of the reasons I started my consulting practice, Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., and its corresponding website, Lawyer Meltdown. The phrase, “lawyer meltdown,” resonates with far too many lawyers, who are stricken with the disease of “busyness,” whether it helps themselves, their clients or their firms, or not. (Although this problem is not limited to lawyers—our whole society suffers from busyness—and the lessons and concepts in this book could easily be applied to other professionals).
Meditation and mindfulness are not easy for many lawyers to wrap their heads around, and Cho and Gifford spend time talking about why that might be and how lawyers can challenge the assumptions that may lead to negative or uncomfortable feelings about the practice. I became interested in the book as a way to learn about another set of tools that might be helpful not only to my clients (the majority of whom are lawyers), but to gain a deeper understanding of lawyer meltdown and whether these techniques could help those who occasionally—or often—feel overwhelmed by the stresses of practicing law.
Even if you’ve never considered meditation or mindfulness before, this book is a helpful guide, introducing you to those concepts and taking you through a progression of meditation practices. The authors are adamant that the practice does not need to be long or complicated, particularly for beginners.
Over an eight-week period, the authors explain different meditation and mindfulness types and exercises, including a range of practices, from sitting quietly 10 minutes a day, focusing on the breath, to doing a body scan, or using mantra repetition to spend “less time unconsciously at the mercy of your thoughts and more time in a settled and quieter state.”
Using these practices can help you to connect to the deeper meaning or closely held values in the work you do every day and the reasons you chose the practice of law, rather than listening unconsciously to external forces and judgments which may not reflect your values. Guided meditations can be found on the book’s companion website, theanxiouslawyer.com. The book also provides tips on what the authors call “off the cushion” exercises that anyone can do while going about the business of their daily life and law practice. These tips and strategies may be particularly attractive to lawyers who seek to learn how to cope with everyday stressors of the practice as they arise.
The book is worth reading even if you’re skeptical about mindfulness and meditation in general, or are reasonably certain that you ‘can’t’ do it. The authors dispel some myths about meditation and what meditation really means. For example, it doesn’t mean clearing your mind of all thoughts. And the book cites several studies that show that regular meditation practice is good for your physical, as well as your mental, health. But the parts of the book that may be even more useful to many lawyers than those about “typical” mediation are those that discuss how to translate these practices into your daily life.
One example is recognizing the “moment of choice” – the moment when you become consciously aware of something and have a choice as to how you’re going to react to it. The moment of choice in meditation is the moment when you notice that your mind has wandered or that you’ve gotten caught up in your thoughts; at that moment, you have an opportunity to simply return to your meditation practice and to focus on your breathing. Alternatively, you could choose to beat yourself up for allowing your mind to wander in the first place. Which is more productive?
This concept of the moment of choice can be extended into other areas and other parts of your life outside of meditation. When you recognize that something isn’t going right in your practice, that you’ve taken on a bad client, or that something needs to change, rather than focusing on the negative of where you are, you can choose instead to celebrate the fact that you’ve recognized a problem. This can help free you to focus on finding a solution or determining how best to minimize the damage moving forward, rather than beating yourself up over getting into the situation in the first place. You can choose to dwell on the negative or you can choose to refocus and move forward.
A related concept from the book that sounds simple but is much more difficult in practice is the idea that there are limitations on what lawyers can fix. Accepting that there are aspects of what you do that are out of your control can free you to focus on what you can do to improve a situation, rather than dwelling on the fact that it isn’t how you might like to be. Instead of trying to fix everything, acknowledging that many clients are in crisis and many aspects of their crisis cannot be solved by their legal issue, but might not be so easily separated from it, may result in a better relationship with your clients. Simply allowing them to vent or to tell their story may free them to turn their attention to what is important for the legal case.
Mindfulness and meditation are a form of self-care, which may lawyers are sorely lacking because so much of their focus is on others’ problems and how to solve them. The idea of practicing compassion toward yourself as well as others may be a good solution for constant busyness which may actually reduce productivity. Self-care allows you to refuel your own tank so you are available to give to others.
You may think you don’t have time to meditate – or to read this book – but the authors have broken it down into bite-sized pieces; you only need to read one chapter a week and then follow a daily meditation practice using the techniques or concepts outlined in that chapter. As the holidays approach and another season of hectic, “busy,” activity approaches, it’s an ideal time to start a new habit that will not only help to reduce the stress and anxiety of the holidays, but stand you in good stead in the New Year, possibly offering a new perspective of yourself and your practice. Give meditation – and this book – a try.