Overcoming Lawyer Burnout//

How 20+ Years in the Law School Classroom Taught Me That Mindfulness is the Ticket to Wellbeing.

Skeptics, start here.

As young lawyers, my friends and I were in a race to the top, and the bottom. We crushed our assignments on four hours of sleep. We ran eight miles a day. We kept the nights intense and alcohol-infused.

I was intoxicated. I was also a wreck.

Then came my wake up call. A senior partner flew into my office, rang an important client, reassured them on a point I’d researched and just told him was wrong, then bolted for lunch, shouting, “fix this before I get back!”

The whole office heard. An hour later, terrified, I reported the same conclusion. Then I watched, stunned, as he dialed the client, jutted his chin at the speaker, and made me take the fall.

Desperate doesn’t begin to describe it. I tried everything. Running farther. Not running at all. Drinking more. Drinking less. A marriage (or two). Acupuncture. A shrink.

As a last resort, I took a 2-day “Intro to Mindfulness” course.

I was skeptical, but the practices started working. I became calmer and more resilient. I stopped coming out swinging and learned to listen. I felt present. Sleep became less illusive. I was happy.  

To confirm I wasn’t swallowing the kool aid, I read the science. It turns out that mindfulness really can make us happier, calmer, and more resilient. I was hooked.

Fast forward to now. I practice mindfulness daily, teach it to my Berkeley Law students, and share it with lawyers and other law professors. Here are three practices I’ve adapted to help lawyers thrive.

Focused Attention. Focus makes us calm. To increase your focus, set a .1 (6-minute) timer every day, lower your eyes, and pay attention to your breath. When you notice your mind has wandered, refocus on your breath without stressing. You need shoes and a shower for a physical workout. You just need six minutes to calm your mind. 

Good Will. Good will is crucial to happiness. See for yourself by secretly choosing three random people and silently wishing them well, three times a day. The people won’t notice. It’s you who’s filling up on good will, which will protect your wellbeing the next time you’re stretched to the limit.

Connection. Our most basic need is connection, but lawyers: we’re so snarky. It feels like camaraderie, but it’s the opposite. To connect, try saying, writing, and posting only truthful, kind words. You’ll feel less anxious (about retaliation), less stressed (about what others think), and less alone. You might even get back some love. You’ll definitely feel more connected to the people you mention – and eventually, maybe to everyone.

Still skeptical? Ready to change your mind? Here’s your homework: put down your saber, take a breath, try the practices, then join other mindful lawyers for a Wake Up Call of your own. Who knows? Mindfulness might just hook you, too.  

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