Mindful Lawyers: First Meditation Conference for Lawyers

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This is a post about a conference for lawyers about meditation. The conference was held in Berkeley, California. It was the first conference of its type and close to 200 people attended. Meditation can help lawyers be more focused in their work. It can also help lawyers be more thoughtful about their actions. The conference talked about many issues related to law and meditation, including the science of how meditation affects a person’s brain.

Mindful Lawyer

Close to 200 lawyers, judges and law students gathered at the University of California Berkeley Law School this past weekend for the first ever Mindful Lawyer Conference. The goal? To help the legal profession explore how contemplative practice — the meditative perspective — can benefit not just individual lawyers but anyone touched by the legal system, and even the system itself.

The Conference was organized by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a non-profit dedicated to bringing the “meditative perspective” to mainstream society, including the legal profession. In its foundational document describing the meditative perspective, the Bay Area Working Group on Law and Meditation, the force behind the conference, explains that the perspective, cultivated through the practice of insight meditation, helps strengthen emotional intelligence and bring focused awareness and enhanced understanding to one’s life and work.

In the legal profession, with its culture of speed, aggressiveness, and adversarial energy, meditation’s capacity to positively impact one’s view and style of work provides an especially attractive possibility. — Meditative Perspective Document

Silent Lawers, Thoughtful Lawyers

The weekend started with an optional mini-meditation retreat lead by Norman Fischer, a Zen priest whose Every Day Zen Foundation is committed to adapting Zen Buddhist teachings to Western culture. It was a short version of the three day lawyers meditation retreats that have been held at Spirit Rock Meditation Center for many years. [Having attended four of these retreats over the years, I can assure readers that lawyers sitting in silence is not a joke – it is an amazing experience that has the potential to deeply alter the way in which legal professionals conduct their work.]

The remainder of the weekend was filled with plenary and small group sessions exploring a wide range of issues at the intersection of law and meditation. How does meditation foster compassion and how does compassion make someone a better (not a weaker) advocate? How can the deeper awareness that comes from slowing down in meditation help lawyers avoid the stressors, tensions and burnout so common to the profession? Can issues of inequality be addressed more comprehensively with the expansiveness that mindfulness brings?

Ringing Phone? Slow Down Before you Answer

An impressive array of conference speakers from around the country described in detail about the science and psychology of contemplative practices, ways in which meditation practice can assist mediators and judges, and how mindful practices can foster social justice. Participants were reminded that mindfulness can be injected into anyone’s work day at any time.

Ringing phone? Let the first ring go unanswered while you set your intention for the call. Walking into a room? Take a breath before sitting in the chair to remind yourself of why you are there.

Conference chairperson Charlie Halpern put the gathering in historic perspective. Forty years ago the first public interest law conference was held in New York, and today most law schools in the country offer public interest courses. Will we one day say the same about meditation classes in law schools? The many law professors from around the country who attended the conference are certainly working hard to make it so.

Mindfulness and Structured Negotiations

The principles that set the foundation for the Mindful Lawyer Conference play a real role in Structured Negotiations. Without court rules and a judge’s gavel to set direction, Structured Negotiations requires — and allows – the development of honest relationships to accomplish objectives. Patience and sustainability, hallmarks of a meditative perspective, are lynch pins of many non-adversarial approaches to dispute resolution, including Structured Negotiations.

The meditative perspective gives practitioners tools that are all too often lost in the practice of law. Structured Negotiations attempts to use those tools, including deep listening, non-reactive responses, and relationship building, to resolve complex disability rights claims without litigation. As I wrote in my review of Lawyer as Peacemaker, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Resources and Thanks

Congratulations and gratitude to the conference organizers, including Doug Chermak, Director of the Law Program at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. The Center continues to develop resources for those in the legal profession interested in incorporating mindfulness into their daily lives and professional work.